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The lives of Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine were marked by a lifelong feud which was never resolved

Domagoj Valjak

The period from the late 1920’s to 1960’s is known as the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Many films which were made during that time are regarded as unique and unrepeatable masterpieces of aesthetics, and they continue to inspire artists, directors, and audiences worldwide. Stars of the classical Hollywood cinema were usually treated like royalty, and news magazines and tabloids were full of stories which focused on saucy details from their wild lives. Over the years, countless articles explored the long-lasting feud between two stellar sisters, Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland.

Photo of Joan Fontaine

Photo of Joan Fontaine

Joan Fontaine (nee. de Havilland) and Olivia de Havilland both starred in famous films of the classical Hollywood, and they both won Academy Awards for their performances.

They remain the only siblings in the history of cinema who won Academy Awards in the same category. Olivia, the older sister, won two Oscars, for Mitchell Leisen’s “To Each His Own” and William Wyler’s “The Heiress.” The younger sister Joan won her only Academy Award for Best Actress in 1941, for starring in Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal “Suspicion.”

Olivia de Havilland, 1940s

Olivia de Havilland, 1940s

The productive lives of the two sisters were marked by rivalry, envy, and constant quarrels. Reportedly, they started their endless feud in their early childhood, when younger and sickly Joan received more attention from their parents because of her frail physique. During their teenage years, Olivia reportedly mocked Joan for being unable to capture the attention of the local boys.

The feud escalated and became involved in their careers; they both quickly became famous and extremely wealthy, and they both allegedly used tabloids to spread unfavorable rumors about each other. Still, they continued to attend familial meetings until 1975, when they radically disagreed over their mother’s cancer treatment. At that time, they went in separate ways, and Joan Fontaine even claimed that her sister didn’t notify her of her mother’s death for two weeks.

Fontaine and Gary Cooper holding their Oscars at the Academy Awards, 1942

Joan Fontaine and Gary Cooper holding their Oscars at the Academy Awards, 1942

 

Olivia de Havilland receiving the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush, 2008

Olivia de Havilland receiving the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush, 2008

Sadly, they never buried the hatchet, and their quarrels were never resolved. The feud officially ended in 2013, when Joan Fontaine died at the ripe age of 96. Her older sister outlived her, and is still alive and well at the impressive age of 100. It is unknown whether the sisters ever met in person since 1975, but most sources claim that they chose never to see each other again. When Joan died in 2013, Olivia stated that she was shocked and saddened by her sister’s death.

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The legacy of both actresses will continue to inspire countless generations of new talents. They both had incredibly prolific careers and became symbols of the lavishness and extravaganza of the classical Hollywood cinema. Still, their personal lives will remain marred by their long-lasting feud, which probably left a mark of sadness and regrets on their families.