Oct 22, 2007

That's Right, Joan, Party!

Eternal younger-sister (to no less than the redoubtably elegant Olivia de Havilland) Joan Fontaine celebrates her 90th birthday today in Carmel, California. The thrice-Oscar nominated star has maintained a decided longevity in Hollywood, beginning her career in 1935, winning her first Academy Award in 1942, and appearing in television and stage roles until the 1980's.

Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland was born just fifteen months after elder sis Olivia, in Tokyo, Japan, where her parents divorced soon after. As an older child Joan bounced between American school in Japan and her mother's residence in Saratoga, California, where Olivia remained an active young stage and theatre-group actress. Family life soon centered around Olivia's burgeoning career in Hollywood, and Joan, partially following in her wake, moved to Los Angeles, roomed with Olivia, and tested for bit parts at MGM. It wasn't until 1937, when she adopted her stepfather's surname and landed more substantial roles, that Joan's own star began to rise. Her most memorable films came in the late 1930's and throughout the 1940's - George Stevens' delightful The Women, Hitchcock's Rebecca and Suspicion, and Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948) are among her best roles.

The first of Joan's four short marriages was to actor Brian Aherne, shown above with Joan; her only children resulted from her marriage to financier William Dozier, with whom she raised two daughters. She has been single since her final divorce in 1969.

While her eternal sibling-feud with Liv is arguably as publicized and enduring as both of their respective, respectable careers, I hope their impressive filmographies eventually take precedence in the public mind. Yes, the catfights and the estrangements are delicious to read about (oh, how I wish they had done a sisters' version of The Women!), but for two such talented women who have contributed so much during their concurrent tenures in Tinseltown, their unforgettable film roles deserve to be at the forefront of their legacies. Films first, ladies, hairpulling second.

Happy birthday, Joan!

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