Joan Fontaines brutal family row that saw huge fallout with sister: ‘Absolutely despised

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Oscar winning actress Joan Fontaine is on screens this evening when her classic romantic thriller Rebecca airs from 5.25pm on Talking Pictures TV. The 1940 Alfred Hitchcock-directed flick follows rich Maxim de Winter as he returns to his lavish home in Cornwall with his new wife from Monte Carlo. Upon arrival, the new Mrs de Winter is inundated with reminders of her husband’s former wife Rebecca, who supposedly died in unusual conditions.

Rebecca was a major success, winning two Oscars out of a possible 11, and is often credited as among Hitchcock’s finest work.

It helped transform Fontaine and co-star Laurence Olivier into household names across the planet, with both nominated for acting gongs at the Academy Awards.

A year after losing out in the Best Actress category, Fontaine won the acclaim her performances deserved after Suspicion won a host of awards.

And remarkably, her sister Olivia de Havilland won her own Best Actress Oscar some four years later, ensuring the pair became the first siblings to win Academy Awards for acting.

While such shared history would inspire fondness between sisters, the reality for Fontaine and de Havilland was anything but.

For the pair, they sadly had a torrid relationship that would see them row throughout the decades.

Fontaine, in particular, appeared most frustrated at de Havilland, and according to author and policeman Bill Cassara, who detailed a series of conversations he had with Fontaine in 1997 in his book Hollywood in Monterey: Chronicles of a Cop.

He had been invited to Fontaine’s home after the actress complained of harassment, and the pair struck an immediate bond.

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Cassara wrote in his 2020 memoir: “I was surprised at how candid she was about her sister Olivia de Havilland. She absolutely despised her.

“In fact, she was so disturbed over the idea that she would predecease her and Olivia would then somehow come to her home and steal the keepsakes that had once belonged to their mother.

“Now mind you, Olivia was living in Paris. But [Joan] went as far as to say, ‘I want you to be at my house when I die.’”

These recollections appear to be validated by Fontaine’s own bitterness towards de Havilland when she reportedly told a journalist: “I remember not one act of kindness from Olivia all through my childhood. She so hated the idea of having a sibling she wouldn’t go near my crib.”

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The row reportedly began in 1942, when Fontaine collected her Oscar, at the expense of de Havilland, who had been nominated that year for the film Hold Back the Dawn.

Reports from the time suggest that de Havilland refused to congratulate Fontaine, further deepening an already vicious feud.

This led Fontaine to strike back with her own quips regarding her sister’s questionable choice in agents and husbands.

Some publications suggest that the pair’s feud began when both were just children, with Fontaine making a series of choice remarks about her sister’s appearance.

And Cassara noted that when in conversation with Fontaine he “always resisted asking her questions” about her sibling.

He continued: “She was very tough with journalists who would dare ask. She chewed them up and spit them out.

“But it was obvious that they were not on good terms.

“From my understanding, the sisters always competed for their mother’s affections. And their mother made it a point for them to compete against each other.

“Even then, Joan thought of her mother’s approval. It was very deep.”

Rebecca airs from 5.25pm on Talking Pictures TV.

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