Last Word: Olivia de Havilland on Joan Fontaine cover

Last Word: Olivia de Havilland on Joan Fontaine

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WITH any case of sibling rivalry, one party tends to like the last word and even at 100, Olivia de Havilland is no exception.
Her legendary Hollywood feud with Joan Fontaine lasted right until her younger sister’s death in 2013.
Now, three years later, de Havilland, celebrating her centennial at home in Paris, is ensuring that her side of the story is the final one.


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Last Word: Olivia de Havilland on Joan Fontaine

Last Words

WITH any case of sibling rivalry, one party tends to like the last word and even at 100, Olivia de Havilland is no exception.

Her legendary Hollywood feud with Joan Fontaine lasted right until her younger sister’s death in 2013.

Now, three years later, de Havilland, celebrating her centennial at home in Paris, is ensuring that her side of the story is the final one.

Whispers

Whispers

The ‘Gone With the Wind’ actress has largely remained silent over the years on the ill feeling between the British-born sisters that first became public after both were nominated for an Oscar in 1942 and dated all the way back to their earliest childhood.

Laying The Blame

But speaking for the first time about the ‘legend of a feud’ to the Associated Press, de Havilland laid the blame squarely at the feet of the ‘Dragon Lady,’ as she called Fontaine, and her long life appears to have done little to ease the antipathy she feels towards her late sister.

She said the public hostility was triggered by an article titled ‘Sister Act’ in Life Magazine after Fontaine won the 1942 Best Actress award for ‘Suspicion’, beating out De Havilland, who had been the favourite for her performance in ‘Hold Back the Dawn.’

Differing Views

‘A feud implies continuing hostile conduct between two parties. I cannot think of a single instance wherein I initiated hostile behaviour,’ insisted de Havilland. ‘But I can think of many occasions where my reaction to deliberately inconsiderate behaviour was defensive,’ she added.

Fontaine painted a rather different picture in her 1978 memoir, ‘No Bed of Roses,’ writing: ‘All the animus we’d felt toward each other as children, the hair-pullings, the savage wrestling matches, the time Olivia fractured my collarbone, all came rushing back in kaleidoscopic imagery.’

‘My paralysis was total. I felt Olivia would spring across the table and grab me by the hair. I felt age 4, being confronted by my older sister. Damn it, I’d incurred her wrath again!’

Academy Award

Accepting her first Academy Award for To Each His Own, March 13, 1947

Academy Award

De Havilland went on to win two Academy Awards for ‘To Each His Own’ in 1947 and ‘The Heiress’ in 1950.

Never Forget

But there was no love lost between the sisters, born 15 months apart to British parents living in Japan during World War One. When Fontaine stretched out her hand to congratulate her at the 1947 ceremony, de Havilland ignored it completely.

At the time of Fontaine’s death in California at the age of 96, de Havilland said she was ‘shocked and saddened’ and that she would ‘never forget’ her kid sister.

Dragon Lady

Now it appears those memories were not so endearing. In an interview at her luxurious apartment near the Arc de Triumphe, de Havilland called her ‘multi-faceted, varying from endearing to alienating.’

‘On my part, it was always loving, but sometimes estranged and, in the later years, severed,’ she continued.

‘Dragon Lady, as I eventually decided to call her, was a brilliant, multi-talented person, but with an astigmatism in her perception of people and events which often caused her to react in an unfair and even injurious way.’

Silence

What would she say to her if her sister were alive to celebrate her 100th birthday today?

‘If Dragon Lady were alive today (for my birthday), out of self-protection I would maintain my silence!’ she declared, revealing perhaps that not everything has been forgiven.

For her part, Fontaine had said before she died: ‘I married first, won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she’ll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it.’

Three L's

Receiving the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush, 2008. Image by James Kegley, NEA

Three L's

Still in good health, the surviving sibling links her longevity to the three L’s - ‘love, laughter and learning.’

Explained

Revisiting one of her most famous roles, de Havilland explained why she wanted the role of Melanie Hamilton from ‘Gone With The Wind,’ and not Scarlett O'Hara that many top actresses were vying for and which Vivien Leigh, another British-born actress, eventually won.

‘Scarlett did not interest me as she epitomised the ‘New Woman’ who was self-sustaining, like myself. Melanie, on the other hand, was more traditional,’ she explained. ‘Most of all, I wanted to be part of ‘Gone With The Wind’ as I sensed that the film would have a much longer life than others - perhaps as long as five years!“ she joked.

Elsewhere

De Havilland said she never saw any reason to move back to America after settling in Paris with her late husband Pierre Gallante in 1953.

The only problem, she added, was that ‘all the artists I had known during the Golden Era live elsewhere - including the afterworld.’