CARMEL, Calif. —
Competition for the prize hardened feelings that had apparent roots in childhood (”Livvie” was a bully, Joan an attention hog) and endured into old age, with Fontaine writing bitterly about her sister in the memoir “No Bed of Roses” and telling one reporter that she could not recall “one act of kindness from Olivia all through my childhood.” While they initially downplayed any problems, tension was evident in 1947 when de Havilland came offstage after winning her first Oscar, for “To Each His Own.” Fontaine came forward to congratulate her and was rebuffed. Explained de Havilland’s publicist: “This goes back for years and years, ever since they were children.”
While Fontaine topped her sister in 1941, and picked up a third nomination for the 1943 film “The Constant Nymph,” de Havilland went on to win two Oscars and was nominated three other times.
Fontaine was featured in “Jane Eyre” with Orson Welles and she and Bing Crosby got top billing in “Emperor Waltz.” A few other Fontaine films: “Bed of Roses,” “A Damsel In Distress,” “Blonde Cheat,” “Ivanhoe,” “You’ve Gotta Stay Happy” and “You Can’t Beat Love.” Her most daring role came in the 1957 film “Island in the Sun,” in which she had an interracial romance with Harry Belafonte. Several Southern cities banned the movie after threats from the Ku Klux Klan.
Fontaine said she left Hollywood because she was asked to play Elvis Presley’s mother. “Not that I had anything against Elvis Presley. But that just wasn’t my cup of tea,” she said.
While making New York her home for 25 years, she appeared in about 30 dinner theater plays. She also appeared twice on Broadway, replacing Deborah Kerr in the hit 1953 drama “Tea and Sympathy” and Julie Harris in the long-running 1968 comedy “Forty Carats.” She joked once about being burglarized in the Big Apple.
“All the jewelry I lost came from me,” she said. “Somehow I was the kind of a girl to whom husbands — and other men, too — gave copper frying pans. I never could quite figure it out.”
In 1966, Fontaine starred in “The Devil’s Own.” In 1978, she played a socialite in the made-for-TV movie based on Joyce Haber’s steamy novel, “The Users.” In the ‘70s and ‘80s she appeared on the television series such as “The Love Boat,” “Cannon,” and in “Ryan’s Hope.”
Show business had come naturally. Besides her Oscar-winning sister, her mother, Lillian Fontaine, appeared in more than a dozen films.