Wednesday Part One: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.Posted: December 18, 2013
What a sad month this has been…we lost such legendary, tremendous actors and actresses. Yes, in a matter of hours, it seemed like the news hit us, one after another…as we lost…
After losing Eleanor Parker last week, I have to admit the post I wrote with all those beautiful pictures was an enjoyable tribute to her, partly because I felt a strange connection to her. The passing of Peter O’Toole and Joan Fontaine are again personal to me…so it seems fitting to me that I will focus today’s post on two of the four actors above that passed away within the past few days.
All the photos on this post will be of Joan Fontaine…images that I have found or collected along the way via Pinterest or Google.
The star of the Hitchcock classics “Suspicion” and “Rebecca” famously won an Oscar in 1942 over her bitter rival — her older sister, Olivia de Havilland.
Joan Fontaine, the polished actress who achieved stardom in the early 1940s with memorable performances in the Alfred Hitchcock films Suspicion — for which she earned the best actress Oscar over her bitter rival, sister Olivia de Havilland — and Rebecca, has died. She was 96.
The Hollywood Reporter awards analyst Scott Feinberg spoke with Fontaine’s assistant, Susan Pfeiffer, who confirmed the actress’ death of natural causes Sunday at her home in Carmel, Calif.
I think because news of Fontaine’s death came on the heels of the announcement of the loss of Peter O’Toole, she did not get the kind of press “notice” she deserved.
It was Hitchcock, with his penchant for “cool blondes,” who brought Fontaine to the forefront when he cast her as the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca (1940), the director’s American debut. Her performance as the new wife of Laurence Olivier in a household haunted by the death of his first wife earned her an Academy Award nomination for best actress.
A year later, Hitchcock placed her opposite Cary Grant in Suspicion, and she won the Oscar for her turn as Lina McLaidlaw Aysgarth, a shy English woman who begins to suspect her charming new husband of trying to kill her. She thus became the only actor to win an Oscar in a Hitchcock film.
Among those Fontaine beat out at the 1942 Academy Awards was her older sister, de Havilland, up for Hold Back the Dawn (1941). Biographer Charles Higham wrote that as Fontaine came forward to accept her trophy, she rejected de Havilland’s attempt to congratulate her and that de Havilland was offended. (There may have been another similar incident after de Havilland won her first Oscar for To Each His Own in 1947.) The sisters, who never really got along since childhood, finally stopped speaking to each other in the mid-’70s.
More on that rivalry in a bit…for now just a few more Obits for Fontaine:
She gave her Oscar-winning performance as the threatened wife in “Suspicion,” opposite Cary Grant, in 1941, the same year for which De Havilland was nominated for “Hold Back the Dawn” — a head-to-head sibling competition that had the Hollywood press buzzing.
“Now what had I done!” Fontaine wrote in her 1978 autobiography, “No Bed of Roses,” of her reaction at the awards ceremony when Fontaine’s name was announced. “All the animus we’d felt toward each other as children, the hair-pullings, the savage wrestling matches, the time Olivia tried to fracture my collarbone, all came rushing back in kaleidoscopic imagery.”
Career totals for the sisters would be: Fontaine, three Oscar nominations and one win; De Havilland, five nominations and two wins. De Havilland, partly because of her role as Melanie in 1939’s classic “Gone With the Wind,” would be the one with the more enduring film legacy.
“My sister was born a lion, and I a tiger, and in the laws of the jungle, they were never friends.”
Fontaine spent several years doing B movies and minor roles before one night, sitting at dinner next to producer David O. Selznick, she conversed with him about the book she had just read, Daphne du Maurier’s romance “Rebecca.”
“Would I!” Fontaine replied.
Fontaine was pitted against such stars of the era as Vivien Leigh, Susan Hayward, Virginia Mayo, Margaret Sullavan, Anne Baxter and Loretta Young. But the casting process was so protracted that by the time Fontaine got the part, she was thoroughly demoralized. This suited Hitchcock in preparing her for her role as “the second Mrs. de Winter.”
“Hitchcock built up his power over Fontaine while keeping her nervous and vulnerable enough to enhance the nervous, vulnerable character she was playing,” Patrick McGilligan wrote of Hitchcock in his 2003 biography of the director.
Fontaine was further humiliated when her costar, Laurence Olivier, treated her with disdain, in part because he was angry that Leigh, his then-fiancee and later wife, had not gotten the role.
“Hitch said that Larry had just come to him, saying Fontaine was awful and that Vivien was the only one who should play opposite him,” Fontaine wrote in “No Bed of Roses.” “I could hardly be friends with [him] after that.”
Fontaine played the part perfectly. As the reference to a review in this obituary from HuffPo states: Joan Fontaine Dead: Academy Award-Winning Actress Dies At 96
“Miss Du Maurier never really convinced me any one could behave quite as the second Mrs. de Winter behaved and still be sweet, modest, attractive and alive,” The New York Times’ Frank Nugent wrote upon the film’s release.
“But Miss Fontaine does it not simply with her eyes, her mouth, her hands and her words, but with her spine. Possibly it’s unethical to criticize performances anatomically. Still we insist Miss Fontaine has the most expressive spine — and shoulders we’ve bothered to notice this season.”
You can see it when you watch her in Jane Eyre, I think the film she stars in with Orson Welles is the best movie production even made. Maybe it is the film itself, the look of the black and white and the master cinematography by George Barnes…(who won an Oscar for his work on Rebecca.)
I don’t know, as with Eleanor Parker, Joan Fontaine got me interesting in reading the classics. So those expressive shoulders have carried so much more of my childhood imaginations and dreams…they led me into a world of books and words.
But, back to the LA Times obit:
Her next role was also for Hitchcock, in “Suspicion,” playing the frightened wife of Cary Grant whom she suspects of trying to kill her. The film was given a Hollywood ending — her suspicions turn out to be a misunderstanding — because the filmmakers believed that Grant’s fans would not accept him as a murderer, as originally written. But Grant was quoted as saying that the casting was perfect because “anyone who knows me realizes that I couldn’t be married to Joan Fontaine for more than 24 hours without wanting to wring her neck.”
The book this film is based on originally ends when Fontaine’s character finds out she is pregnant…and realizing she is married to a murderer, she drinks the poisoned milk…killing herself and her baby, rather than to bring this murderer’s child into the world.
Film historian David Thomson wrote that after her Oscar, Fontaine “went after stately, romantic parts, lacking the real emotional sophistication of a Lombard or a Loy, and entered into weepies without the conviction of a Joan Crawford.”
In Hitchcock’s movies and later in Max Ophuls’ “Letter From an Unknown Woman,” Thomson said, she “was so good as to leave us baffled by her general indifference.”
Her last lead film performance was in “The Devil’s Own” (1966), in which the actress, who was nearing 50, became the latest aging star consigned to making a horror movie, joining contemporaries such as her sister and Bette Davis.
From the HuffPo link above, Fontaine is quoted as saying:
“You know, I’ve had a helluva life,” Fontaine once said. “Not just the acting part. I’ve flown in an international balloon race. I’ve piloted my own plane. I’ve ridden to the hounds. I’ve done a lot of exciting things.”
Now, about that sisterly rivalry…Joan Fontaine-Olivia de Havilland Feud: New Details Revealed
Getty ImagesJoan Fontaine, left, and Olivia de Havilland
At a luncheon earlier this month, I was seated beside the actresses Laura Dern and Meg Ryan and we began chatting about classic movies, a shared passion of ours. Eventually, the conversation led us to Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, the legendary Oscar-winning sisters. Within the last nine months I had interviewed both of the nonagenarians for a book that I am writing about old movies for young people; I spoke with Joan, who was living in Carmel, by telephone in March, and Olivia in-person at her home in Paris after the Cannes Film Festival wrapped up in May. Laura and Meg were anxious to know the answer to the same question that every person with whom I spoke after those interviews had asked me: Was “the feud” — a supposed decades-long cold war between the two sisters — finally over?
The answer was not so simple.
TCM will be showing Joan Fontaine films on December 29th:
Born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland in Tokyo, Japan on Oct. 22, 1917, she was the daughter of British patent attorney Walter de Havilland and Lillian Augusta Ruse, a former stage actress; as both she and her father would often recount, the family counted two English kings in their lineage. Plagued by illness as a child, including bouts with anemia and measles, Fontaine was sent with her sister and mother to live in Saratoga, CA, while her father remained in Japan. Her parents’ marriage was already in trouble prior to the move to the States, and the separation preceded a divorce, which became final when Fontaine was two. Academic tests proved Joan to be an exceptionally bright child with an IQ of 160, and she excelled at school. Home life, however, was a different story; she had an uneasy relationship with de Havilland, who was reportedly favored by her mother. The feud eventually became the stuff of Hollywood legend, and by all accounts, was alive and well when both sisters had entered their ninth decades.
Now, we turn to Peter O’Toole…and since this post has taken longer than I expected it to…Peter will be in Wednesday Reads Part Two: What shall we hang…the holly, or each other? a little later today.
Quickly a few headlines:
And one last thing…I was very busy yesterday, in fact I did not get online at all until early this morning when I started to write this post…Is this shit for real? CNN Art Critic Calls Zimmerman Painting ‘Psychotic,’ Compares Him with Manson and Gacy | Mediaite
Neighborhood watchman-turned-painter George Zimmerman is headed for a big payday, but instead of being the toast of the art world, he’s getting roasted over his initial effort, a flag-themed homage to Picasso, stock photography, and concrete poetry. On CNN’s New Day Wednesday morning, host Chris Cuomo tapped the expertise of New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz, who blasted Zimmerman’s effort, and was beside himself at the thought that the “travesty” puts Zimmerman in the price range of artists like Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein.
Bidding on Zimmerman’s painting now stands at $110,100.00 on eBay, despite the revelation that the piece, entitled “America,” is a derivation of an arguably superior work: “American Flag” by Shutterstock.
Oh my fucking gawd! Are you kidding me?
Zimmerman’s painting is a multi-layered homage/commentary on 20th century art. He cleverly inverts the artistic conceit of Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans,” instead taking a meaningful symbol of American culture and turning it into a cheap object of commerce. Zimmerman also pays subtle homage to Picasso’s Blue Period, which was inspired by the suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas. It might also be a dig at the paltry selection at his local Michael’s craft store. Finally, Zimmerman’s placement of the words “one nation” physically beneath the word “God” is a clear reference to the grade-school pictograms of Salvador Dali, particularly his famous “Man Overboard.”
Cuomo brought Saltz in to explain “How can someone like this, assuming you believe the worst about George Zimmerman, how could someone ever want art from someone like this?”
“Mass murderers have made art, and people have tried to buy it, have bought it, Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy,” Saltz noted, adding that “In my humble opinion, this person got away with a crime and in that sense, that is the only reason that anybody would want to buy anything that he made.”
“What have we seen in terms of why, what is the fascination?” Cuomo asked. “What is the desire to buy the artwork of someone who’s been connected to, or convicted for, a horrible crime?”
That’s when Saltz delivered his blistering critique, telling Cuomo that Zimmerman’s painting is “a travesty, a placard, a poster, something you might see in protest,” but also opining that “It’s a bit of confession to me.”
“It’s talking about liberty, justice for all,” Saltz continued, marking up the painting with a telestrator. “Well, you know, it’s almost like none of this ever happened. And then also, you have this is his funny little — he’s almost trying to be a cause. And the cause is that I think he is is a travesty of justice, a crime. It’s insipid, it’s not — there’s no thought in it. It’s needing to be the center of attention. I think it’s a bit psychotic.”
Saltz also noted the similarities to the Shutterstock photo, and added that Zimmerman “Just needs attention. It’s just the beginning. This guy is, I think, a kind of person heading for a fall.”
Uh, you don’t need to be some expert art critic to come to that conclusion there…this guy is living out some kind of Mike Judge satire, but it is real life, and that is the horror of this story.
Treat this as an Open Thread…