Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Perennial Feud

Once upon a time there were two ambitious sisters , named Olivia and Joan. They were British with royal blood. Their father was an attorney in Japan, and both were born in Tokyo. After their mother learned of the father’s affair with his Japanese maid, she whisked them to California. Still teenagers they decided to become movie stars. While Olivia, the older one, soon made a splash in earlie talkie Hollywood, Joan struggled in small roles. Over and over again she saw her older sister get the roles she had auditioned and hoped for. Despairing of ever making it, Joan curled up in bed to read a new best-seller called Rebecca and instantly saw herself in the put-upon heroine struggling against a powerful (if dead) rival. The next night she happened to find herself at a dinner party seated next to producer David O. Selznick. No writer had plotted this, it was sheer fate. She told Selznick how much she liked the novel, and he told her that he had just bought the rights and was preparing a screen version. Joan tested for the lead role but had little hope to get the part.  Again her sister also auditioned, and she was already an established star. Against all odds Joan made it this time.  Rebecca became her first big hit. She returned to director Alfred Hitchcock for another blockbuster hit movie, Suspicion, and was nominated for Best Actress. So was Olivia, for Hold Back the Dawn. Joan, only 24 then, took home the Oscar, becoming the youngest best-actress winner at the time. Olivia never forgave her.
Yesterday I learned that Joan Fontaine, one of the last remaining links to Hollywood’s golden age of the 1930s and ’40s, has died at age 96. She is survived by her sister, Olivia de Havilland. The sisterly feud never ended. “I married first," Joan purportedly said, "I won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she’ll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it!"

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