Classic Movie Actress: Joan Fontaine

joan fontaine TCM presents its Summer Under the Stars in August, featuring a different movie star each day. I thought this would be a great time to to feature some fabulous classic movie actresses and their films. Today, TCM features the films of Joan Fontaine.

She was born Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland, in of all places, Tokyo, Japan. Her father was a British attorney and her mother was a ‘want-to-be’ actress. Which explains why Joan and her sister, (that’s right) Olivia de Havilland eventually went to Hollywood.

While her sister, Olivia was finding success in the movies, eventually playing Miss Melanie in Gone with the Wind, Joan’s career was moving slowing. It wasn’t until her role as the Ms. John Gray in The Women that she started to experience some success.

After that came Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), and Jane Eyre (1943). She was nominated for three Oscars, Best Actress in a Leading Role for  The Constant Nymph (1943), Best Actress in a Leading Role for Rebecca (1940) and won Best Actress in a Leading Role for Suspicion (1941).

Joan Fontaine enjoyed a long career in movies and television. She worked with some of Hollywood’s best leading men, like Cary Grant in Suspicion and Gunga Din and Lawrence Olivier in Rebecca.

Joan was not only an Oscar winning actress, but she was also a licensed pilot, champion balloonist, expert rider, prize-winning tuna fisherman, a hole-in-one golfer, Cordon Bleu chef, as well as an licensed interior decorator. How did she find the time to act?

Jane Eyre

Joan’s sweet, timid face and soft spoken manner were perfect for playing in movies like Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca and Jane Austin’s, Jane Eyre. But, while quiet and mousy, the characters eventually found the strength of will to handle their business.

The 1943 version of  Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre stars Joan Fontaine in the title role as the plain and mousy governess and Orsen Wells stars as Mr. Edward Rochester, a man with a dark secret. While  I loved the 2011 version, starring the sexy Mr Rochester, Michael Fassbender, I loved watching Joan stand up to Orsen in this movie.


Alfred Hitchcock directed this movie based on Daphne du Maurier gothic romance novel. Joan Fontaine plays the soft-spoken lady’s companion who is swept off her feet by a wealthy aristocrat,  Maxim de Winter, played by the darkly handsome Lawrence Olivier.

Everything is going just fine, but the honeymoon is over once they return to Maxim’s estate, Mandalay. Apparently Mr. de Winter is a man with something to hide. So many mysteries are hiding in those  dark halls. And they are  so much more haunting, with Judith Anderson’s Mrs. Danvers luring in the shadows.

As the second Mrs. de Winter, Joan is so timid that she is afraid to ask the servants for lunch. It doesn’t help that Mrs. Danver’s is still loyal ( and maybe a little too infatuated) to the late Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca. How strange is it for her to keep Rebecca’s room as a shrine and the creepy touching of her lingerie…eeewww!

Joan F RebeccaMrs. Danver’s spends most of the movie messing with the new Mrs. de Winter’s head. She even convinces her to dress up as Rebecca for a big costume ball. Little did she know that Maxim and Rebecca were no the happy couple that Mrs. Danvers says there were. There are mysterious visits from one of Rebecca’s many former lovers, secret doctor’s appointments and an alleged suicide at sea.

But when Rebecca’s boat is found, the mysteries comes to light and questions of murder cause problems and a possible prison sentence for Maxim. These troublesome circumstances bring the shy young bride out of her shell, as she stands by her man. Now…that’s a classic chick flick!

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley…”

Ok… I must have seen Rebecca at least 5 times, but never noticed this interesting tidbit. Did you know that the character played by Joan Fontaine in this movie is never named. Maxim refers to her “my wife” and  “my dear”,  she is called the second Mrs. de Winter,  but her  name are never mentioned by the author.

Watch More Movies Starring Joan Fontaine
on TCM Summer Under the Stars

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Music for Madame (1937)

A Damsel in Distress (1937)

Born to Be Bad (1950)

The Bigamist (1953)

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)

Ivanhoe (1952)

Gunga Din (1939)

Suspicion (1941)

Rebecca (1940)

Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) This Above All (1942)

The Constant Nymph (1943)

Until They Sail (1957)

This is my contribution to the 2013 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon.

About Clara Mathews

Clarabela (Clara Mathews) is freelance web content copywriter, professional blogger and Hugh Jackman fan. In addition to writing about her love of movies at, Clarabela is also a regular contributor to DignityZine.  Follow Just Chick Flicks on Facebook.