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Actress Fontaine dies at 96

Fontaine
Associated Press
Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine, pictured here in 1945, has died at the age of 96.

– Academy Award-winning actress Joan Fontaine, who found stardom playing naive wives in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion” and “Rebecca” and also was featured in films by Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang and Nicholas Ray, died Sunday. She was 96.

Fontaine, the sister of fellow Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland, died in her sleep in her Carmel, Calif., home Sunday morning, said longtime friend Noel Beutel. Fontaine had been fading in recent days and died “peacefully,” Beutel said.

Fontaine appeared in more than 30 movies, including early roles in “The Women” and “Gunga Din,” the title part in “Jane Eyre” and in Max Ophuls’ historical drama “Letter from an Unknown Woman.” She was also in films directed by Wilder (“The Emperor Waltz”), Lang (“Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”) and, wised up and dangerous, in Ray’s “Born to be Bad.” She starred on Broadway in 1954 in “Tea and Sympathy” and in 1980 received an Emmy nomination for her cameo on the daytime soap “Ryan’s Hope.”

“You know, I’ve had a helluva life,” Fontaine once said. “Not just the acting part. I’ve flown in an international balloon race. I’ve piloted my own plane. I’ve ridden to the hounds. I’ve done a lot of exciting things.”

Hitchcock’s “Suspicion,” released in 1941, and featuring Fontaine as the timid woman whose husband (Cary Grant) may or may not be a killer, brought her a best actress Oscar and dramatized one of Hollywood’s legendary feuds, between Fontaine and de Havilland, a losing nominee for “Hold Back the Dawn.”

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.

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