Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Joan Fontaine on stardom ...

Joan Fontaine's 1978 autobiography NO BED OF ROSES, which I have just rescued from a box filed away in the garage, is a fascinating re-read now. Written by Joan herself it captures her style perfectly, one can almost picture her raised eyebrow as she casts a cool eye over her life and career, plus the story of the "feuding sisters" - her and sister Olivia De Havilland - and the ups and downs of her career and personal life. Here is a taste: a few paragraphs on stardom in the 1940s: 

In the Forties, no chic woman appeared on the street in New York without hat or gloves. We wore real silk stockings, high heels, occasionally a bunch of violets or a fresh camellia on the lapel. On a warm day a scarf of mink or sable was carelessly thrown about a pearl-necklaced throat. Diamonds were only worn at night. At the theatre, hats or velvet ribbons, flowers or feathers were quite appropriate, while I cannot remember anyone not dressing for a performance at the Metropolitan Opera.

 During the Forties, I flew to New York on business. Often I took the train. It was a luxury to board the Super Chief at Los Angeles or Pasadena, knowing that for the next three days I would be rid of outside pressures, of interviews and telephone calls from producers and agents, of the petty problems presented by the morning mail, of the never-ending details of running a house.

In the days of transcontinental train service, smiling porters were as solicitous as mothers. They guarded one’s privacy, acted as alarm clocks upon request, conjured up icy-cold martinis. …. As the long black train snaked eastward over the Rockies, fresh Colorado trout would be boarded, then crip Utah celery, grouse and pheasant from the western plains. The uniformed dining-car steward would tip you off in advance, stowing away the best of the delicacies , so he implied, until you appeared in the dining car. Here silver cutlery danced on starched white linen tablecloths. Wineglasses tinkled against the silver as you looked out the steamy window.  Lights from towns flashed by during the meal, then suddenly darkness until moonlight revealed a snow-capped mountain or shining desert floor.
Often friends would be discovered. This meant cocktail visits in staterooms perhaps ten cars away; then a return visit with all the guests to your stateroom seemed essential. After idle days of reading, writing letters, playing cards, or simply staring out the windows, arrival suddenly became exciting.

In New York during those years I usually stopped at the Hampshire House on Central Park South or at the St. Regis at Fifty-Fifth and Fifth Avenue. Upon my arrival I would find the suite massed with fruit and flowers, a chilled bottle of champagne, courtesy of the management. Bouquets of long-stemmed roses and colourful floral arrangements bore cards from the studio currently employing me, from my agents, from fans. Friends would have left messages and invitations, publicists their long schedules of interviews, autograph seekers crowded outside on the pavement. A studio limousine waited on the street to whisk me to appointments.

Joan (1917-2013) lived to be 96 - Olivia is 99 now and will surely make 100 this summer. Joan is a favourite of ours here at The Projector, in fact one could say Fontaine is our favourite Joan. I like this posed still from ISLAND IN THE SUN, 1957 where Joan has a chaste romance with Harry Belafonte and looks great in those '50s outfits (plus gloves of course). She and Belefonte don't actually touch in the film (off set it was the other Joan in the film - Collins - who had a fling with Harry...); Fontaine though got a lot of hate mail after the film, as she says "it was too soon to tackle the race question with honesty". 

Joan was wonderful of course in THE WOMEN and Hitch's REBECCA (she won the Best Actress Oscar for his SUSPICION in 1942), I also like FRENCHMAN'S CREEK and of course Ophuls ' LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN. She is disparaging about a lot of her other films, including those Fifties ones like IVANHOE, ISLAND IN THE SUN, UNTIL THEY SAIL, and a Bob Hope comedy (CASANOVA'S BIG NIGHT in '54 which I liked a lot as a kid) and that Mario Lanza extravaganza SERENADE in 1956 where she is perfectly divine as society rich dame and superbitch Kendall Hale (a gay man in the Cornell Woolrich novel) who drives her pickups mad before she discards them - its one of our favourite Trash Classics here. Reviews on this and more at Joan label, including her last film, the hilarious horror THE WITCHES in 1966.

She also did TEA AND SYMPATHY on stage, with Tony Perkins - thats a version I would like to have seen, replacing Deborah Kerr in the original stage production directed by Kazan (Ingrid Bergman played it in Paris)As Joan relates in the book, Kerr later replaced her in real life, as Joan had been dating writer Peter Viertel in the late '50s and was considering him as her next husband and she flew to Vienna (where he was working on Litvak's THE JOURNEY) to surprise him, but it was Joan who got the surprise, as Viertel and the film's star Deborah Kerr had discovered each other, which led to their long marriage.


  1. Again, thanks for the quote from the book which I haven't read but it is one I shall seek out. I always liked Joan but I have always thought her something of a bitch, even when playing 'nice' girls. We're a bit like that, aren't we!

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