One of the most notorious legends to stem from Hollywood’s Golden Age are Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine. They’re the generation of spanning feud siblings. They are a year apart, and it grows into a professional rivalry that lasts until their deaths in 2013. Join Facts Verse as we explore why Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine’s abusive relationship lasted until death.
Olivia de Havilland was jealous of her younger sister Joan from the moment she was born. Joan is born 15 months after Olivia and didn’t take kindly to the new baby her mother’s attention. Olivia antagonizes her younger sister and this treatment escalates as the two get older into full-blow physical abuse.
The pain Olivia inflicts on Joan starts as simple hair pulling and teasing. It becomes more extreme physical conflict as they grow. There was one incident where Olivia’s abuse got so out of hand that she broke her younger sister’s collarbone.
As the two young stars blossomed into their teens, the opportunities for physical abuse lessened. Instead, Olivia began seeking out more psychological ways to torment her younger sister. Olivia bullies Joan throughout high school. On one occasion tricking her sister just to tease her about her inability to flirt with boys.
They receive an interest in the art of acting from their mother, who is an aspiring actress during their youth. The two children had been born in Tokyo, where their father worked in business. At a young age, their mother divorces their father and moves the two girls out to Los Angeles. Her intention of starting an acting career. Both young ladies and their mother strives for stardom in the City of Angels, but Olivia attains it first.
Olivia’s acting career starts when she receives the task of being Gloria Stuart’s understudy. A notable production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Gloria becomes famous as the little old lady in James Cameron’s Titanic. She ends up leaving the production shortly before its premiere due to a more appetizing film role. Olivia receives her chance to fulfill her purpose as Gloria’s understudy, and her performance is a great deal of acclaim.
Olivia’s successful performance on stage resulted in her in the 1935 film adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Taking the role in that Hollywood production required her to sign a seven-year-long contract with Warner Bros. The contract results in roles for Olivia, including an appearance alongside Errol Flynn in 1938’s The Adventure of Robin Hood. Gradually, Olivia was becoming a bigger and bigger name on the marquees.
When Olivia became successful, she hired Joan as her chauffeur. It leads to Joan meeting a studio employee at Warner Bros. They express interest in giving the young actress a career to match her sisters. Joan goes home to discuss the meeting with her mother. She insists that Joan shall not take up with the same studio that launches the career of her sister. The fear that the two girls become embroiled in a professional rivalry. Although Joan heeded the advice, the two sisters still became both professional and personal enemies later for other reasons. Join Facts Verse as we explore why Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine’s abusive relationship lasted until death.
Joan is born with the same last name as her sister but changes it to their stepfather’s last name. She wants to distance herself from her sister professionally. With the confidence that she gains via her interaction with the Warner Bros. studio employee. Joan is able to get herself a two-picture contract with RKO Pictures.
Joan proudly fulfilled her contractual obligation to RKO Pictures by starring in the 1937 film Damsels in Distress and the 1939 film Gunga Din. After that, the young actress moved over to MGM Studios, taking on a small role in the 1939 George Cukor film The Women. At the time, Cukor attaches to the film that was to become the 1939 adaptation of Gone with the Wind. Because of this, Joan managed to secure herself an audition for one of the main roles, the role of Melanie, with the film’s producer. Although Joan didn’t get the role, she did off-handedly recommend her sister.
Joan didn’t get the role she auditions for in Gone with the Wind because the producer found her to be too stylish for the part. In turn, the recommendation of her sister turned out to be somewhat of an insult. Olivia receives the part, but the fact that comes as a result of her sister’s insinuation that she was somehow less stylish than her left a bitter aftertaste of the victory. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support. As well, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Olivia entangles herself in her Warner Bros. contract when she wins the part of Melanie in Gone with the Wind. However, the film had enough money behind it that the producers eventually managed to steal Olivia away. As well, Olivia personally talked to Jack Warner numerous times, and her passion for the project struck a chord with him.
Olivia’s performance in Gone with the Wind resulted in the actress’s nomination for her first Academy Award. Not only was this the first nomination that she had received, but it was also the first nomination that anyone in her family had received. Both she and her sister would subsequently receive many more, though Olivia got there first. However, Olivia wasn’t going to be the first of the sisters to receive a win.
Although Olivia received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance in Gone with the Wind, she ended up losing the award to one of her own costars in the film. The award famously went to African-American actress Hattie McDaniel, marking her the first African-American to ever win an Academy Award for anything.
While one might think that Olivia might’ve been more understanding about her own loss given that Hattie’s win was a major moment in film history, all she really cared about was her own vanity. Olivia is upset when she loses, and it is much worse when her sister beat her to a win after a few years.
Joan is alongside Laurence Olivier in Alfred Hitchcock’s American directorial debut, the 1940 thriller Rebecca. Both Joan and the film are nominated for Academy Awards. Though the film won the award for Best Picture, Joan did not win. However, Alfred is impressed with Joan’s performance and subsequently cast her in his 1942 film Suspicious. It results in Joan for another Academy Award, but this time the competition included her sister.
Olivia nominates for her performance in Hold Back the Dawn, and this means the two sisters are going to be competing directly for the same award. Not only that, but it is an award that Olivia beats once already by a former costar. Tensions were high, and everyone awaited the announcement of the Best Actress winner with clenched teeth. As it turns out, Joan won the award. However, her nerves at the prospect of disappointing her sister didn’t allow her to take much enjoyment in the victory.
At first, it didn’t appear as if Olivia and Joan’s relationship destroy much by their competition at the Oscars. However, many incidents follow that only push the two sisters farther and farther apart.
Not only did Joan beat her sister to an Academy Award win, but she also beat her sister to marriage. Given that Joan was the younger of the two, this made the offense all the more egregious. To make matters worse, the man Joan married was Brian Aherne, an actor that Olivia had been previously linked to romantically. However, this was only the beginning of the pair’s romantic squabbles.
Olivia was dating Howard Hughes at the time that her sister was married, and Howard reportedly made some comments to Joan about how he would rather be with her. Joan reported this to Olivia out of concern, but it only caused Olivia to further resent her sister. Olivia’s personal and professional jealousy for her sister had reached a fever pitch.
When Olivia and Joan’s mother died several years later, in 1975, Olivia finally found something that she could beat her sister to. Olivia and her lawyers rushed for control over her mother’s estate, forcing a ceremony into place before Joan had even been made aware of her mother’s passing. Although Joan was eventually able to step in and postpone the ceremony, her feelings had already been hurt beyond repair. If Olivia had done this to get revenge on Joan, her plan had worked. This event caused a rift that seems to have lasted until Joan’s passing in 2013.
Reports vary in regards to how much Olivia and Joan kept in contact after the 1975 incident involving their mother. However, their relationship was drastically altered by even the most generous of estimates. Some say they made up, while others say they never spoke again. Joan died of natural causes in 2013, and her sister followed suit in 2020. Shortly before her death, Joan shared in an interview that she had since reconciled with her sister, though these claims were never substantiated any further.
Although competition and jealously loomed over them, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine were arguably equally successful and talented in the eyes of the audience. Comment down below to share which of these two sisters you think was the most talented, or what your personal favorite of their Golden Age Hollywood roles was. As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!