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Remembering Joan Fontaine and five of her beloved movies

"Remembering Joan Fontaine and five of her beloved movies," by Jennifer Anne Messing

Joan Fontaine, British-American actress (1917-2013)
Selznick International Pictures
Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles starring in "Jane Eyre" (1944).
Twentieth Century Fox

Glamorous Hollywood actress Joan Fontaine (1917-2013) was born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland on October 22, 1917, in Tokyo, Japan, to British parents. Her family moved to California when Joan was a young girl, but later her parents were divorced. Her father was a British-born patent attorney. Her mother, who had once dreamed of becoming an actress—and who was a graduate of London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts—passed her dream on to Joan and her older sister, Olivia de Havilland, who also became a famous actress.

Joan Fontaine began her movie acting career in 1935, but played mostly minor roles for several years. Her fortuitous break came when she met legendary producer, David O. Selznick, and he invited her to do a screen test for the leading role of the young Mrs. de Winter in the film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel, “Rebecca.” She stood out among the numerous actresses who auditioned, landed the role and played it magnificently alongside Laurence Olivier—and won an Oscar nomination for it in 1940.

In 1941, she was cast in the lead role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion,” together with Cary Grant. This role won her an Oscar award for Best Actress. Joan Fontaine’s sensitive and skillful acting performances in “Rebecca,” and in “Suspicion,” coupled with her delicate, striking beauty, brought her into the limelight. She was subsequently cast in leading roles in many more romantic movies throughout the 1940s and 1950s. She enjoyed a successful career acting in films, on television and on stage for several decades, until the mid-1980s, after which she retired. In 1978, she published her memoirs, entitled, “No Bed of Roses.” She passed away quietly and of natural causes, at her home in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, on December 15, 2013.

These are five of Joan Fontaine’s beloved and famous films: (You can click on the links to purchase from Amazon.)

1. “Rebecca” (1940), Selznick International Pictures, drama/mystery, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. Joan Fontaine played the young and naive second wife of Maxim de Winter (played by Laurence Oliver), who soon learned there were many mysteries to uncover about her husband’s first wife’s death.

2. “Suspicion” (1941), RKO Radio Pictures, drama/mystery, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Joan Fontaine and Cary Grant. Joan Fontaine played a wealthy woman who married a very attractive and charming man (Cary Grant), and later became convinced that he had evil intentions because he was after her money. She won an Oscar award for Best Actress in this film.

3. “The Constant Nymph” (1943), Warner Brothers, drama/romance, directed by Edmund Goulding, starred Joan Fontaine as Tessa Sanger, a young Belgian woman deeply in love with an eccentric musician, acted by Charles Boyer. The problem was that Tessa’s cousin was in love with the same man.

4. “Jane Eyre” (1944), Twentieth Century Fox, drama/mystery/romance, directed by Robert Stevenson, starring Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles. Joan Fontaine played the lead role in this film adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s1847 gothic romance novel entitled, “Jane Eyre.” She starred as Jane, the tortured orphan girl who later worked as a governess for a very wealthy man, Edward Rochester (Orson Welles), fell in love with him, but discovered there was an obstacle standing in the way of their love.

5. “Letter from an Unknown Woman” (1948), Rampart Production, drama/romance, directed by Max Ophüls, starring Joan Fontaine and Louis Jordan. Joan Fontaine played Lisa Berndl, a young woman who fell in love with a musician, Stefan Brand (Louis Jordan) when she was only 14 years old—and who loved him all her life but never saw the love returned.

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Portland residents can borrow classic movies starring Joan Fontaine at the Multnomah County Library, tel. 503-988-5234. Joan Fontaine's classic movies in VHS and DVD format can be rented at Movie Madness, 4320 SE Belmont, Portland, Oregon, 97215, tel. 503-234-4363.

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Author, poet, speaker and singer Jennifer Anne F. Messing of Portland, Oregon, is a wife, and mother of three children. She has a bachelor's degree in Christian Education and a diploma in Journalism and Short Story Writing. A past president of the Oregon Christian Writers, Jennifer Anne has over 200 articles, movie reviews, and poems published in 60 magazines and books, including The Christian Journal, Evangel, LIVE, Standard, Bible Advocate, Christian Fiction Online and Nudges from God. Her poetry gift book, "MORNING'S PROMISE: Poetic Moments in His Presence" is now available in trade paperback and e-book (Kindle) format. CLICK HERE TO ORDER, or find more information on her website:

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