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The Five Roles That Defined Joan Fontaine's Career

By    |   Friday, 08 May 2015 10:34 AM

Although she may not be remembered as well her sister – legendary actress Olivia de Havilland – Joan Fontaine was a mega-star in her own right during her day. Nominated for three Academy Awards (and winning one), she appeared in more than 40 films, working with many of Hollywood's leading actors, producers and directors.

Several movies helped shape the actress's career, introducing her to audiences, attracting the attention of Hollywood's movers and shakers, and earning her critical acclaim. Five movies in particular help trace the arc of Fontaine's career trajectory, which include a treasure trove of classic movies for old film buffs.

1. Nurse Doris King "The Man Who Found Himself" (1937)

Although considered a B movie, 1937's "The Man Who Found Himself" was Fontaine's first starring role and gave producers and directors an idea of what she might do in the future. The film cast Fontaine as a wartime nurse helping a self-doubting doctor regain his courage. Only 19, Fontaine was promoted by the film's studio, RKO Radio Network, as a rising star. At the end of the film, following the credits, RKO added a brief promotional pitch of the young starlet.

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2. (The second) Mrs. De Winter "Rebecca" (1940)

After raising her profile with movies such as "Gunga Din," "The Women," and "Damsel in Distress" (Fred Astaire's first outing with a co-star other than Ginger Rogers), Fontaine catapulted to A-list status with her performance in "Rebecca." The film won the 1940 Academy Award for Best Picture and Fontaine was nominated for Best Actress – the youngest ever to earn the recognition at that time.

She received the part after a chance seating next to the film's producer (David O. Selznick, who would later cast Fontaine's sister in "Gone with the Wind") at a dinner party. Testing for the lead during the course of months against hundreds of other actresses, Fontaine won the role against established stars, such as Loretta Young, Vivien Leigh, Anne Baxter, and her more-famous sibling. It was the first time she worked with director Alfred Hitchcock, starring opposite another Englishman, Laurence Olivier.

3. Line McLaidlaw Aysgarth "Suspicion" (1941)

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If "Rebecca" began Fontaine's ascension as one of Hollywood's leading ladies, "Suspicion" confirmed her stature, earning her the Best Actress Oscar in 1941 and making her the youngest ever to win the honor. Again working with Hitchcock, Fontaine was paired onscreen with Cary Grant in a movie that featured a psychological thriller plotline. As the submissive wife a potentially dangerous playboy, Fontaine increased her range as an actress. Fontaine's performance was the only Oscar-winner Hitchcock ever directed.

4. Tessa Sanger "The Constant Nymph" (1943)

Fontaine received her final Oscar nomination for her role in the romantic comedy, "The Constant Nymph," in which the 26-year-old actress played a 14-year-old. The film starred Charles Boyer as the apple of teenage Tessa's eye – unfortunately, Fontaine's character is too young for her adult crush.

5. Lisa Berndle "Letter from an Unknown Woman" (1947)

To see the role Fontaine called her best performance (according to fan site, Fontaine Fan.com), watch "Letter from an Unknown Woman." Fontaine's production company produced the film, and although not a box office success, it's called one of the greatest of its genre by American Movie Classic reviewer Tim Dirks. The United States Congress selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1992. The film follows the pattern established in Fontaine's other movies, featuring her as a woman in an unrequited love relationship. In "Letter," Fontaine once again plays well below her age as a teenager in love with an older man.

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Although she may not be remembered as well her sister - legendary actress Olivia de Havilland - actress Joan Fontaine was a mega-star in her own right during her day. Nominated for three Academy Awards, she had roles in more than 40 films.
joan fontaine, roles, actress, movies
Friday, 08 May 2015 10:34 AM
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