Dear Joan Fontaine,
As I watched Suspicion earlier this evening, I was reminded of the heartbreak I felt when I heard of your passing at the age of 96 a couple of weeks ago. It was a full life that much is certain. But I am not here for that rehash of the biographical details of your life – the family tensions, the highs and lows and such. I just want to spend a moment reflecting on your body of work and what it has meant for me and my enduring passion for the world of cinema.
I think my first on screen encounter with you occurred when I saw Jane Eyre during my 10th grade English class. While my classmates chuckled heartedly at the ‘high-waistedness’ of Orson Welles’ pants, silently, I was fascinated by the ‘mouseish’ yet indomitable spirit you conveyed in your portrayal of the titular English governess. This film heralded my introduction into classic film – which in turn, opened up the entire world of film to me. For that I will be forever grateful to your part in this.
Post Jane Eyre, I made it a mission of mine to comb through your filmography and catch as many films as was possible, and by the means I had at my disposal at the time – the public library’s video collection, American Movie Classics and (much later) Turner Classic Movies. As part of my obsession with Alfred Hitchcock, I read the book Rebecca with the sole purpose of being able to watch the film. And boy I am glad that I did. Although some of the particulars of the novel varied in the screen adaptation (for reasons), I was still taken in by your performance of a naive young woman drawn down the rabbit hole into a fraught, almost surreal world.
Through the years, I continued to marvel at the variety of films that you starred in, notably Letter From an Unknown Woman and another lesser known film – my “go to” for those rainy Thursday afternoons when all you want to do is cuddle up on your sofa and blank the entire world out (save for what you are watching). RKO’s From This Day Forward always did the trick for me. Now, on its surface there is nothing extraordinary or groundbreaking about this film – it is a standard, romantic post-war melodrama. But for some reason since I first saw it struck a sentimental chord and whenever it came on, a big, cheesy smile crept across my face at the anticipation of seeing it again. It has been several years since I last saw it, but I will try to remedy that once I find a digital version of it to watch.
So I could bather on and on but I think I will leave it here – your work as a lasting testament to the dedication to your craft. You will be sorely missed.
Much Luv ~
Scheduling Note: Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will air a 7-film retrospective in memory of Fontaine’s work today, Sunday December 29th.