Happy 94th Birthday, Joan Fontaine! What's Her Greatest Screen Moment?


Both Joan Fontaine and her big sister Olivia de Havilland are thriving well into their nineties, and even though they still don't appear to be speaking to each other, they remain two of Hollywood's most esteemed thespians ever. (Watch de Havilland's "Melanie Remembers" interview from 2004's Gone with the Wind re-release -- just lovely!) On the occasion of Ms. Fontaine's 94th birthday, let's take a stroll into the Oscar winner's filmography and find her greatest cinematic moment.

I'm nearly crying at how much I love and have missed Rebecca. Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 Best Picture winner transcends its era and actually seems more modern than many of the director's later films. Joan Fontaine plays the unnamed "Second Mrs. De Winter," who marries the dashing Maxim (Laurence Olivier) and moves in with him at his great estate Manderley, but soon finds she is doomed to live in the shadow of his first wife. Rebecca is cast to perfection, with a lamb-like Fontaine quivering and bleating her way into our hearts, Olivier chilly as Maxim, and the legendary Dame Judith Anderson as the dour, cruel Mrs. Danvers. All three garnered Oscar nominations, but Fontaine is the true revelation as the underestimated bride.

And in case that's not enough old Hollywood magic for you, here's Fontaine's screen test for the role. She beat out Vivien Leigh, Anne Baxter, and Loretta Young -- and you can see why with this meek, yet engrossing portrayal garnered her the part.

Happy birthday, Ms. Fontaine! What's your favorite moment of hers?


  • The Pope says:

    Letter from an Unknown Woman

  • Skippy says:

    You're exactly right--"Letter from an Unknown Woman" is a tremendous movie, though I'll mostly credit Ophuls for that. I never thought that Joan Fontaine was that great (her sister's just better), but if you put Joan in exactly the right part ("Letter," "Rebecca"), she was fine.

  • MARIEKIELA says:

    Ms. Fontaine is one of my very favorite actresses of all time even if I like a lot of her sister's movies, her acting movesd and touches me more, and more of her movies are among my favorite ones.
    Of course "Rebecca" is among her best performances but so are" Suspicion", "The affairs of Susan", "Frenchman's creek", "The women", "This above all", "Kiss the blood off my hands", "Letter from the unknown woman", "From this day froward", "Jane Eyre" ; and if I don't quote "The constant nymph" it's just because I still haven't seen it ...

  • Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Haviland will never die. Nothing like a little sisterly rivalry and vitriol to keep the old corpse moving. Neither would never give the other one the satisfaction, and for that I salute them! The world would be a much dimmer place without them.

  • ANDY says:

    happy birthday, joan fontaine! the only bad thing I see in you is your bad relationship with your sister Olivia (another great actress), you're going to be 100 in some years (please live until 100!), please make peaces!

  • happygolucky says:

    The Women - God, what a classic!
    This is what I love about ML - keeping history alive.

  • Andrew says:

    TCM showed THE CONSTANT NYMPH recently and Fontaine was amazing. She is hilarious in THE WOMEN (I swear she's playing Peggy Day as a drunk) and of course, LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN.
    But my favorite Fontaine film has to be the delicious BORN TO BE BAD. Fontaine is dressed to the nines and clearly having the time of her life as the conniving Cristabelle. I also just like saying the character's name.