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Joan Fontaine, 'Coolly Beautiful' Oscar Winner, Dies

Actress Joan Fontaine in 1944. i i

hide captionActress Joan Fontaine in 1944.

Dan Grossi/AP
Actress Joan Fontaine in 1944.

Actress Joan Fontaine in 1944.

Dan Grossi/AP

She was a "patrician blond ... who rose to stardom as a haunted second wife" in Hitchcock's Rebecca and "the coolly beautiful 1940s actress who won an Academy Award for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion."

Joan Fontaine died Sunday at the age of 96.

The Associated Press writes that "Fontaine, the sister of fellow Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland, died in her sleep in her Carmel, Calif., home Sunday morning, said longtime friend Noel Beutel. Fontaine had been fading in recent days and died 'peacefully,' Beutel said."

As the Los Angeles Times adds, Fontaine "became almost as well-known for her lifelong feud with her famous older sister." The New York Times notes that "the sisters were estranged for most of their adult lives, a situation Ms. Fontaine once attributed to her having married and won an Oscar before Ms. de Havilland did."

Fontaine won her single Oscar, for best actress, in 1942 at the age of 24. Her sister was among the others nominated that year (for her role in Hold Back the Dawn). De Havilland won the first of her two Oscars for her performance in the 1946 film To Each His Own. De Havillland, now 97, survives her sister.

The AP says that:

"Fontaine's pale, soft features and frightened stare made her ideal for melodrama and she was a major star for much of the 1940s. For Hitchcock, she was a prototype of the uneasy blondes played by Kim Novak in Vertigo and Tippi Hedren in The Birds and Marnie. The director would later say he was most impressed by Fontaine's restraint. She would credit George Cukor, who directed her in The Women, for urging her to "think and feel and the rest will take care of itself."

"Fontaine appeared in more than 30 movies, including early roles in The Women and Gunga Din, the title part in Jane Eyre and in Max Ophuls' historical drama Letter from an Unknown Woman. She was also in films directed by Wilder (The Emperor Waltz), Lang (Beyond a Reasonable Doubt) and, wised up and dangerous, in Ray's Born to be Bad. She starred on Broadway in 1954 in Tea and Sympathy and in 1980 received an Emmy nomination for her cameo on the daytime soap Ryan's Hope.

" 'You know, I've had a helluva life,' Fontaine once said. 'Not just the acting part. I've flown in an international balloon race. I've piloted my own plane. I've ridden to the hounds. I've done a lot of exciting things.' "

News of Fontaine's death came the same day we heard that actor Peter O'Toole (Lawrence of Arabia) passed away on Saturday. And there's word that Tom Laughlin, the actor-writer-director best known for Billy Jack, died last Thursday.

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