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Joan Fontaine in Supporting Roles: 4 Roles She Played Without Being Lead Actress

Image: Joan Fontaine in Supporting Roles: 4 Roles She Played Without Being Lead Actress
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By    |   Friday, 08 May 2015 09:44 AM

Joan Fontaine's transformation from B-movie actress to A-list leading lady was a multi-year journey that started with small parts, continued with lead roles in smaller movies, and then catapulted the young starlet to fame and recognition with the first of three Academy Awards Best Actress nominations in 1940. These four supporting roles helped Fontaine develop the acting skills that would serve her well in movies, the theater, radio, and TV for more than 50 years.

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1. Caroline Rumsey "No More Ladies" (1935)

Fontaine made her big screen debut in "No More Ladies," which starred Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery. At that time, she was still working under the professional name of Joan Burfield, taking her stepfather's last name as her working name shortly after this film. This was the film that possibly got Fontaine noticed by RKO executives as a potential future leading lady.

2. Charlotte Parratt "Quality Street" (1937)

Fontaine took an uncredited role in this Katharine Hepburn movie, which featured more than a dozen actors playing parts that weren't credited. According to reviewer Dan Callahan, a critic for Roger Ebert.com, the young actress made her more-established co-star take notice. "Hepburn was so impressed by this affected, superior-seeming young girl that she advised RKO to star Fontaine in some low-budget films." Her time with Hepburn must have made an impression on her because she was panned by some critics for seeming to imitate Hepburn's speech patterns in subsequent roles.

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3. Peggy Day "The Women" (1939)

Fontaine put her acting skills to the test in this film by competing with more than 100 other female cast members on screen. The film touted three of Hollywood's leading ladies as its leads: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell. What Fontaine lacked in screen time, she made up for in learning experience working with veteran director George Cukor, according to Turner Classic Movies. "I asked him what gestures, what tonal qualities he wanted for the young wife I was playing," she recalled. "George simply said, 'Forget all that. Think and feel and the rest will take care of itself.' Those few words are the greatest gift any director, any drama coach ever gave me."

4. Emmy "Gunga Din" (1939)

Although the lead female in the movie, Fontaine had a small part, calling it "… a tiny role of little importance," in her autobiography. Similar to "The Women," "Gunga Din" featured a triumvirate lead, this time all males. Fontaine shared the screen with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Cary Grant, and Victor McLaglen playing three English army buddies in late 19th Century India. In a departure from the character Fontaine would play in many of her later roles (a subordinate female to a strong man), Fontaine appears in the beginning of the film as the pushy fiance of Fairbank's character, steering him toward a marriage and business career his army companions warn him against.

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Joan Fontaine's transformation from B-movie actress to A-list leading lady was a multi-year journey that started with small parts, continued with lead roles in smaller movies, and then catapulted her to fame with the first of three Academy Awards.
joan fontaine, roles, actress, movies
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2015-44-08
Friday, 08 May 2015 09:44 AM
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