It was 2007.
When I opened my Post Office box…
A slip inside indicated I had a parcel.
Could it be I wondered?
As it appeared at the counter before me, I realized…
The package was slightly bigger than 8″ by 10″ and maybe a quarter of an inch thick.
The printing was neat and orderly. Very precise. Not rushed.
I thought for a second of letting the lady behind the counter know that the small package she had just handed me was from none other than classic movie actress Joan Fontaine.
Not really knowing the counter lady or even knowing if she’d know who Joan Fontaine was, I decided against it.
I’d never written a letter to a celebrity before.
It was just not my thing.
But when I came across Joan Fontaine’s address online, I decided to make her my exception.
The golden age of cinema brought some very beautiful women to the public’s attention. All dedicated to their craft and whose personality and charm shines through every character they inhabited.
Rita Hayworth…Lana Turner…Greer Garson…Vivien Leigh…Myrna Loy…Carole Lombard…Carole Landis…Evelyn Keyes…Barbara Stanwyck…Paulette Goddard…I love them all.
But two for me really stand out…
Ann Sheridan who possesses “a girl next door quality” that permeates her beauty and demeanour (who I pay tribute to with my site www.ann-sheridan.com) and Joan Fontaine…
Her beauty was more elegant. She had a sophistication about her. In fact, I almost couldn’t believe how beautiful she was. By all indications, a beauty and glow that time, try as it does, was unable to strip away from her throughout the years.
I scoured Turner Classic Movies for her movies.
One of her early films “Maid’s Night Out” caught Joan at her screwball best. Still beautiful of course, but there was a marvellous sense of fun and wackiness about her performance. Miles away from the type of characters she would play less than a handful of years later in the movies Rebecca and Suspicion.
I’ve managed to watch quite a few of her performances, but there’s still more treasures out there waiting to be discovered. I even read her 1979 autobiographical book No Bed of Roses.
I was delighted that both she and her sister Olivia de Havilland were still alive and well and making their way through their 90s.
In fact, I’d often visit her Internet Movie Database profile, just to make sure everything was fine and she was still going strong.
So around five to eleven the night of Sunday, December 15th, when I found out she’d passed away I was saddened, to say the least. “Yes,” she was 96. “Yes,” she lived a good life. I know I know. But it’s always sad when someone good leaves us, no matter how many years they’ve spent on earth.
Anyone who knows a bit about Joan’s history knows of the feud between her and her sister Olivia.
As the story goes, in 1941 both sisters were nominated for the best actress Oscar. Olivia for Hold Back The Dawn. Joan for Suspicion. When Joan won, jealousy flared, their relationship strained.
Strangely enough, originally Joan wasn’t going to attend the ceremony. But Olivia insisted Joan attend, explaining that her absence would look strange.
In 1946, the sisters had not spoken in four years. Olivia was nominated again (her third Best Actress nomination) this time for the film To Each His Own. When Joan Crawford backed out as Best Actress winner presenter, the Academy contacted sister Joan to be the last minute replacement.
When Joan called out Olivia’s name, she extended her hand to congratulate Olivia who promptly snubbed her.
Joan once said of Olivia…
“My sister is a very peculiar lady. When we were young, I wasn’t allowed to talk to her friends. Now, I’m not allowed to talk to her children, nor are they permitted to see me. This is the nature of the lady. Doesn’t bother me at all.”
“We’re getting closer together as we get older, but there would be a slight problem of temperament. In fact, it would be bigger than Hiroshima.”
In 1978 she said “You can divorce your sister as well as your husbands. I don’t see her at all and I don’t intend to.”
In a statement released after Joan’s death, Olivia, who lives in Paris and is now 97, said she was “shocked and saddened” by her sister’s death and grateful for the many “kind expressions of sympathies.”
Of course, Joan and Olivia’s situation is not unique. Family members across the world, for one reason or another, don’t talk to each other – many being related to one another almost “in name only.”
And while I’m in no way taking sides, as only they know what went on between them, Joan’s death and Olivia’s response, is a reminder…no, a call to action, that if you find yourself in a situation like theirs, the time for words is now. Not when the other person can no longer hear them.
For all their feuding, I’m sure they still loved each other as demonstrated when Joan said…
“By the way, we may not get along personally, but I am absolutely thrilled that my sister has accomplished what she has. Imagine what we could have done if we had gotten together. We could have selected the right scripts, the right directors, the right producers—we could have built our own empire. But it was not to be.”
In the package Joan sent me in response to my letter were two autographed pictures. They have proudly adjourned one of my walls ever since.
I will leave you with a quote by Joan…
“I married first, won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she’ll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it!”
Although said in jest, it seems Joan got it wrong.
Here’s to you, Olivia. May you have many years ahead of you…
And here’s to you, Joan. Thanks for great entertainment you’ve given the world over the years…and “yes” thank you for the photos, but, more importantly, thanks for the kindness behind them and the thrill you gave this classic move fan. May you rest in peace.