Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


NO BED OF ROSES: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY. Joan Fontaine. William Morrow; 1978.

The very talented star of Rebecca, Suspicion, Letter from an Unknown Women, and many others proffered this very well-written and absorbing autobiography in the late seventies. The "feud" between her and her sister Olivia de Havilland seems to be attributed to a fairly childish sibling rivalry that existed since childhood, this despite the fact that both women won Oscars and became acclaimed, highly successful actresses. Fontaine was born in Japan, but she came to the US after her parents' marriage broke up, and had a comparatively privileged if often unhappy childhood. She intimates that both her father and stepfather had an unhealthy sexual interest in her. She married Brian Aherne even though Howard Hughes wanted her for a wife, this despite the fact that Olivia was practically engaged to the man at the same time, another blow to their relationship. Fontaine had other marriages and boyfriends, and along the way made quite a few movies: This Above All with Tyrone Power; Beyond a Reasonable Doubt with Dana Andrews; Kiss the Blood Off My Hands with Burt Lancaster; and The Constant Nymph with Charles Boyer. Fontaine has little to say about some of her films, such as Something to Live For and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, aside from the fact that she thought very little of them. She appeared in The Bigamist only because her husband at the time, Collier Young, produced it; Young had been married to co-star and director Ida Lupino previously. As Fontaine puts it: "After shooting all my scenes, director Ida saw the rushes, didn't like the photography, and changed cameramen before actress Ida began her own scenes!" The book concludes with a moving open letter from Fontaine to her late mother, with whom she had a relationship just as complicated as her relationship with her sister. Despite Fontaine's fame, what comes across to the reader is the damage that parents can inflict on their children, no matter who they might be or what becomes of them.

Verdict: Fascinating look at one lady's life in and out of Hollywood. ***1/2.

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