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Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland (aka Joan Fontaine) was born on
October 22, 1917 in Tokyo, Japan in what was known as the
International Settlement. Her father was a British patent attorney
with a lucrative practice in Japan, but due to Joan and her older
sister's ( 'Olivia de Havilland' (qv) ) recurring ailments the
family moved to California with the hopes of improving their
health. Mrs. de Havilland and the two girls settled in Saratoga
while their father went back to his practice in Japan. Joan's
parents did not get along well and a divorce soon followed. Mrs. de
Havilland had a desire to be an actress but her dream was curtailed
when she married. Now she hoped to pass on her dream to Olivia and
Joan. While Olivia pursued a stage career, Joan went back to Tokyo
where she attended the American School. In 1934, Joan came back to
California where her sister was already making a name for herself
on the stage. Joan likewise joined a theater group in San Jose.
However, San Jose was not exactly an acting mecca so she went to
Los Angeles to try her luck there. After moving to LA Joan adopted
the name of Joan Burfield because she didn't want to infringe upon
Olivia who was using the family surname. She tested at MGM for a
small role in NO MORE LADIES in 1935. She was scarcely noticed.
After that production, Joan was idle for a year and a half. During
this time she roomed with Olivia who was having much more success
in films. By 1937, this time using Joan Fontaine, she took a better
role as Trudy Olson in YOU CAN'T BEAT LOVE. Later that year she
took an uncredited part in QUALITY STREET. Although the next two
years saw her in better roles Joan still yearned for something
better. In 1940, she garnered her first Academy Award nomination in
REBECCA. Although she thought she should have won, (she lost out to
Ginger Rogers in KITTY FOYLE), she was now an established member of
the Hollywood set. However, she would again be nominated for her
role as Lina McLaidlaw Aysgarth in SUSPICION (1941). This time she
won the coveted award. She was making one film a year but Joan was
choosing her roles well. In 1942, she starred in the well-received
THIS ABOVE ALL. The following year she appeared in THE CONSTANT
NYMPH. Once again she was nominated for the Oscar only losing out
to Jennifer Jones in THE SONG OF BERNADETTE. By now, it was safe to
say she was now more famous than her older sister. More fine films
followed. In 1948, Joan was forced to accept second billing in THE
EMPEROR WALTZ with Bing Crosby. Joan took the year off in 1949
before coming back in 1950 with SEPTEMBER AFFAIR and BORN TO BE
BAD. In 1951 she starred in Paramount's DARLING, HOW COULD YOU!
which turned out badly for her and the studio as it wasn't the hit
they imagined it to be. More weak productions followed. Joan slowed
down on the big screen for a while taking part in television
programs and dinner theaters. Joan also starred in many well
produced Broadway plays such as FORTY CARATS and LION IN WINTER.
Her last appearance on the big screen was THE DEVIL'S OWN in 1966.
Her last public appearance in the electronic medium was GOOD KING
WENCESLAS which was a made for TV film. Joan, today, still appears
on the stage and lecture circuit while traveling and writing in her
spare time. She is, without a doubt, a lasting movie icon.
Joan Fontaine full bio »
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