My Interview with Joan Fontaine, Only Actor to Win Oscar in Hitchcock Film

Posted by By at 15 December, at 16 : 42 PM Print

My Interview with Joan Fontaine, Only Actor to Win Oscar in Hitchcock Film

Joan Fontaine, who won an Academy Award for Best Actress for director Alfred Hitchcock’s 1941 movie Suspicion, died Sunday, December 15, 2013, at her home in Carmel, California.

Hitchcock himself did not win an Academy Award until 1979, when he was recognized for his lifetime achievement, but Fontaine, born October 22, 1917 in Tokyo, the younger sister of legendary actress Olivia De Havilland, was the only one of his actors to be honored by the Academy for a performance in one of his films. In four years, between 1940 and 1943 she was nominated three times for an Academy Award, twice while working for Hitchcock, in Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941), and once for Edmund Goulding’s The Constant Nymph (1943).

I had the privilege of meeting Ms. Fontaine. As a great admirer of her work, particularly her performance in Max Ophuls’ classic Letter from an Unknown Woman, I took a chance of writing to her and was very pleased when she responded. After exchanging a few letters, I finally arranged to interview her at length in her apartment in New York in early summer of 1978, where she was to live until selling it in 1984 so she could move to Carmel.

The interview was part of my eleven-hour production for National Iranian Radio & Television called Cheshm-Andaz Haftom. The program was about the style and vision of five pantheon directors: Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, John Ford, Jean Renoir and Milos Forman. I asked my mentor, the great American critic Andrew Sarris, to be the sole writer for the program, and enlisted the very talented Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo to be the program’s host. Each installment ran for two hours, except for the one on Hitchcock which ran for three. This was the installment for which I interviewed Ms. Fontaine.

Unfortunately, only the installment on Howard Hawks was ever aired by National Iranian Radio & Television, shown in two parts over a period of two weeks in the fall of 1978. Soon afterwards, a strike was called at the NIRT as the employees walked out to be a part of the revolution and eventual regime change that would turn my country upside down. The remaining installments of the program were never aired, and by that fall, I had returned to New York, leaving all copies behind. I have not had possession of any copies of those shows since and assume that they were likely all destroyed.

You can read the entire interview with Ms. Fontaine in my book Azadi & Eshgh in Cinema (Love & Liberty in Cinema), published in Iran by the Moin publishing company in 2002.




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