The Curtain Rises on Joan Fontaine (1947) 🇺🇸
The Curtain Rises on Joan Fontaine
So you think you know Joan Fontaine! Well, you don’t. For Joan is a new Joan, a reborn Joan, an exquisite and beautiful woman who has at last begun to find her true place in life.
by Constance Palmer
She recognizes this herself, is in fact very happy about it. “Within the past few months,” she says, “everything has changed. Perhaps I’m in some sort of cycle that is bringing me everything I want. Isn’t it amazing that in these months I’ve had a new husband, a new home — and a new career?”
Joan and I were sitting across a table from each other at Lucey’s. She’s just come from the set at Paramount where she’d been making “The Emperor Waltz” in Technicolor with Bing Crosby.
She wore, atop an enormous and vastly becoming pompadour, a sparkling diamond crown.
Ropes of pearls circled her white neck. But there the elegance ended. For she’d shed the voluminous satin grandeur of her gown and wore — most sensibly on a scorching hot day — a bare-shouldered print playsuit that ended well above the knee. Socks and canvas wedgies made sport of the diadem.
“I myself am a dozen people,” she went on as she caught the amused glances her little-girl clothes brought. “One night I may decide to dress up in silks and satins and be the belle of the ball. The next day I may be in pigtails and blue-jeans sawing wood. But whatever I do, I must do terrifically, with fullest concentration.
And I must be doing something all the time.
There must always be some activity, some accomplishment in my life for me to be happy.”
That she is happy now no one can doubt. She didn’t have to say so. When she mentioned her new husband her whole expression softened.
The new husband, of course, is brilliant William Dozier, until recently an executive at RKO Studios. The new home is a dream-house in Brentwood, set in three and a half acres of woodland and stream, orchards and gardens. And the new career is the just-organized Rampart Productions, with Dozier at the head and Joan the most beautiful vice-president ever to star in a company’s product.
“And I hope the first Rampart production will be a baby!” Joan laughed — but wouldn’t say any more on that subject. Instead, she went on more seriously, “To go back to a woman finding her real self, take this as an example. I talked with one of Paramount’s young leading women just this morning, and when the conversation was over I realized the girl had spoken in three separate and distinct accents! Of course it was funny! But actually she was only trying to find herself. Few young girls know what they are or what they want to be!”
Joan next gave an autograph to a small girl in pigtails who had stood silent, regarding the adored one owlishly through big glasses. “Then you take the wonderfully successful case of Joan Crawford. Think of the changes she’s made to reach today’s perfection. And each change shows exhaustive thought and hard work. Each change has kept her career alive and growing, from Our Dancing Daughters to Mildred Pierce. She got the Academy Award for that — and now she’s gone on to the character-maturity of Humoresque.”
It was when Joan herself gave her Academy-Award performance in Rebecca that her mother, the exuberant and outspoken Mrs. Lillian Fontaine, made her classic remark about her opinion of her child’s ability.
“You must be very proud of your daughter,” was a friend’s obvious conclusion after the preview.
“Yes. Yes, I am,” Mrs. Fontaine replied consideringly. Then she added in a rush of candor, “You know. I’ve always thought Joan rather phony in actual life, but on the screen she seems quite real!”
That Joan can tell this on herself with a burst of laughter shows how far indeed she is from being a phony. “But the truth is, I was no good on the screen until I stopped being myself,” she confessed. “It was George Cukor in his direction of The Women who opened the door for me. Up to then I’d never known what to do with my hands and feet, how to pitch my voice. I was ill-at-ease, unhappy, worried. But then he said, ‘Think the character, feel the character way down inside — then you’ll speak and move and be the character without any difficulty.’ And it was true! It was like a great light breaking through fog, like a curtain rising! And never from that moment have I had the slightest nervousness about any part I play, as long as it’s not myself!”
The second great step toward finding herself was the period of Joan’s divorce. “Brian Aherne’s a fine, fine man. I admire him tremendously,” she said earnestly, “but there were so many reasons why our marriage could not continue.”
Asked why she had chosen acting as a career, she answered promptly, “Mostly for the money, of course. Any actress who gabbles along about art or self-expression or any rot like that is mainly talking through her hat. She acts for the money. Nobody likes to get up at six in the morning.”
Joan doesn’t believe in schools of the drama. She is vehement in her denunciation of drama teachers who try to mold, to coerce the embryo actress into a set method of portraying emotion. She believes more promising actresses have been ruined than helped by rigid voice placement, “pear-shaped tones” and mannered gestures. She firmly advises ambitious, stage-struck girls that the way to learn acting is to act. And that means on a stage before a paying audience. They will learn far more by their mistakes than they ever can from inflexible coaching.
The curtain really rose last year with her marriage to Dozier. It is a union of minds as well as hearts.
“It is the perfect marriage!” Her lovely eyes glowed with happiness and intelligence. “Our interests are the same. We’re in the same business; we talk studio all the time. Our friends are people in the business who talk the same language we do. They understand us and we understand them.”
Both Joan and Bill have the quality of throwing themselves completely into everything they do. “And Bill’s so kind to people,” says Joan. “He has such a terrible sense of humor. And he’s so thorough. Whether it’s his job at the studio or fixing a leak in the drain, he does everything well. I call him twice a day and our conversation is always concentrated on business. There’s none of this ‘How are you, dear? What’re you doing?’ When we talk, it’s a discussion of my business, his business, or maybe the house. We’re completely together on everything.”
Bill says he’s just organized a new club, the HOSU, and Joan inquires what on earth that may be. “Oh, that’s the Husbands of Stars, United,” Bill replies blithely and names some of the members, with the husbands of Loretta Young, Betty Hutton and Dorothy Lamour among them.
When Joan and Brian Aherne were divorced, she set out to make a whole new circle of friends. “But it was when Christmas came that I realized that I was really very lonely,” she said.
Christmas is indeed an empty time without a family, and Bill Dozier was lonely, too. Though he and Joan had met on the RKO lot and had had many business discussions there, neither realized they had actually fallen in love until the following February when Bill came down to the hospital to discuss another picture Joan was to do for the studio. It was the second time within three months that Joan had been ill enough to be sent to a hospital. The first time in New York it had been very seriously, with virus pneumonia. This time in Hollywood, it was with influenza, dangerous now in her weakened condition.
Dozier stood looking down at the frail girl lying on the pillows. Her hair was in pigtails and she had no make-up to hide the shadows of sickness. “I think you need someone to take care of you,” he decided firmly.
She smiled up at him. “Who, for instance?”
“Me, for instance,” he announced. “I want to marry you.”
So that’s the way it was.
“It is the perfect marriage,” says Joan Fontaine proudly when talking about husband William Dozier, a movie producer.
On Paramount set, Joan, dressed as Austrian countess for “The Emperor Waltz,” chats with Marlene Dietrich, a gypsy in “Golden Earrings.”
Lovely Joan has never looked more enchanting than in the turn-of-the-century costumes for film “Ivy.”
Collection: Movieland Magazine, June 1947