Rebecca and Suspicion actress Joan Fontaine dies aged 96

Joan Fontaine, the Oscar-winning star of Hitchcock films like Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941) has died at the age of 96.

Fontaine – the sister of fellow Oscar-winner Olivia de Havilland – died in her sleep on Sunday in her Californian home.

Born in Tokyo as Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland, Fontaine and her older sibling moved to the United States when they were children.

Prior to her mainstream success, she appeared in fifteen films in five years before landing the key role of Mrs. de Winter in Alfred Hitchcock’s award-winning drama Rebecca. The following year brought more personal recognition to her as she won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as the vulnerable Lina in Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Suspicion.

Ironically the win came at the expense of her sibling who was nominated in the same category for Hold Back the Dawn. The actress later said it was a “bittersweet moment” to beat her sister to the prize.

But De Havilland (star of The Adventures of Robin Hood and Gone with the Wind) ended up bettering her relative in the late 1940s when she won two statuettes for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949). It was speculated that she snubbed her sister’s congratulations upon winning the first award which is what triggered their lifelong feud.

In her autobiography, Fontaine said:

“I adore, respect and like my sister. But we don’t seek out each other’s company. We’re such complete opposites.”

Despite their bitter rivalry, both actresses remain the only siblings to have won Academy Awards for acting.

Fontaine’s own career brought further attention with roles in the likes of The Constant Nymph (1943), Jane Eyre (1943), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) and Ivanhoe (1952).

She also had the fortunate experience of working alongside many of the Hollywood greats including Fred Astaire, Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier.

Her final major film appearance came in The Witches (1966) while her final screen credit was for the television film Good King Wenceslas (1994).

Married four times (all ending in divorce), Fontaine is survived by her sister as well as her two daughters.

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