Olivia de Havilland on Joan Fontaine

Olivia de Havilland

Olivia de Havilland (top); Joan Fontaine in Suspicion (bottom)

Olivia de Havilland is the subject of an interview published in the London Evening Standard about a week ago. The piece is a must-read. Discussed are de Havilland's youth, her early years in Los Angeles, Errol Flynn, Gone with the Wind, the Academy Awards, and – tangentially – her relationship with sister Joan Fontaine.

“It is hard, very hard, to believe she is 93,” says interviewer Hermione Eyre. “Only the glorious vintage of her gossip gives it away. 'I saw Norma Shearer dancing with [her Romeo and Juliet co-star] Leslie Howard and I thought, “I wonder what her husband [MGM former second-in-command Irving Thalberg] thinks about that…"' Sometimes she confides regret: 'For two weeks after I lost out on that Oscar, I didn't believe in God…' and briefly, when I ask whether she might one day be reconciled with her sister, the actress Joan Fontaine, she shows the pain of an ongoing family feud. 'Better not,' she says, smiling through gritted teeth. 'Better not.'"

Further down the piece, there's the following paragraph referring to Joan Fontaine:

“The death of their mother in 1975 and the publication of Joan's poisonous memoir in 1978 estranged them fully, which has proved the best option for Olivia. 'I got that solution from reading a wonderful little agenda [diary]. Every page had a profound quotation from a saint or a philosopher, and one day I turned a page and it said: “Avoid destructive people.” I thought, “That's marvellous, and moral, too. If you are faced with the source of an insoluble problem, one that is useless and painful and destructive, well, avoid it.” Avoidance is a non-destructive, benevolent solution.'"

The Oscar de Havilland lost that made God less godly for a couple of weeks was the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award that went to Hattie McDaniel for Gone with the Wind.

Two years later, she would lose another Oscar. Adding insult to injury, she lost the 1941 Best Actress Oscar to none other than Joan Fontaine in Suspicion. (De Havilland was in the running for Hold Back the Dawn.)

De Havilland would eventually receive two Best Actress Academy Awards: for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949).

When Fontaine came to compliment de Havilland following her To Each His Own victory, de Havilland turned her back on her sister. “I don't know why she does that when she knows how I feel,” de Havilland later told her press agent, Henry Rogers.

Variety reported that “Joan stood there looking after her with a bewildered expression and then shrugged her shoulders and walked off.”

The above quotes are found in Damien Bona and Mason Wiley's Inside Oscar.

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