Her death was confirmed by her assistant, Susan Pfeiffer.
Ms. Fontaine was only 24 when she took home her Oscar in 1942, the youngest best-actress winner at the time, but her victory was equally notable because her older sister, Olivia de Havilland, was also a nominee that year. The sisters were estranged for most of their adult lives, a situation Ms. Fontaine once attributed to her having married and won an Oscar before Ms. de Havilland did.
Until the Hitchcock films, Ms. Fontaine’s movie career had not looked promising. While Ms. de Havilland was starring opposite Errol Flynn in hits like “Captain Blood” and “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and captured the coveted role of Melanie Hamilton in “Gone With the Wind,” Ms. Fontaine struggled.
In 1937 and 1938, she made 10 mostly forgettable pictures, alternating between screwball comedies like “Maid’s Night Out,” in which she starred as a socialite mistaken for a servant, and dramas like “The Man Who Found Himself,” in which she played a noble nurse determined to save a hobo’s life.
In 1939, she appeared in two critically acclaimed pictures. She was a minor player in “Gunga Din,” with Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., but made an impression in the all-female ensemble cast of “The Women.” Those roles were followed by her career-making performance in “Rebecca,” which Frank S. Nugent praised in The New York Times as the film’s “real surprise” and “greatest delight.”
In the 1940s and ’50s, Ms. Fontaine — only slightly typecast as shy, aristocratic or both — had a thriving movie career, starring opposite the era’s male superstars, including Burt Lancaster, Tyrone Power and James Stewart.
She played the title character in “Jane Eyre” (1944), opposite Orson Welles; a romantic obsessive in both “The Constant Nymph” (1943), for which she received an Oscar nomination, and Max Ophüls’s “Letter From an Unknown Woman” (1948); the prim Lady Rowena in “Ivanhoe” (1952); and a British colonial in the Caribbean in the early race-relations drama “Island in the Sun” (1957). That film’s mere suggestion of an interracial romance, between Ms. Fontaine’s character and Harry Belafonte’s, was considered daring.
She made her Broadway debut in 1954, replacing Deborah Kerr as a headmaster’s sensitive wife who helps a young man affirm his sexuality in “Tea and Sympathy.” Brooks Atkinson, writing in The New York Times, preferred Ms. Kerr but called Ms. Fontaine’s performance “forceful and thoughtful” and her New York appearance “one of the better lend-lease deals with Hollywood.”
She returned to Broadway once, in the late 1960s, replacing Julie Harris in the comedy “Forty Carats,” about a middle-aged woman’s romance with a younger man.
Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland was born to British parents on Oct. 22, 1917, in Tokyo, where her father, Walter, a cousin of the aviation pioneer Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, was working as a patent lawyer. In 1919, her mother, the former Lillian Ruse, moved with her two daughters to Saratoga, Calif., near San Francisco. The de Havillands divorced, and Lillian married George M. Fontaine, a department store executive, whose surname Joan later took as her stage name.
Ms. Fontaine, who also briefly used the name Joan Burfield (inspired by a Los Angeles street sign), moved back to Japan at 15 to live with her father and to attend the American School there. Returning in 1934, she soon moved to Los Angeles to pursue a film career.
Her final big-screen roles were the heroine’s jaded older sister in “Tender Is the Night” (1962), based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, and a terrified British schoolteacher in “The Devil’s Own,” a 1966 horror film.
Ms. Fontaine married and divorced four times. Her first husband was Brian Aherne, the British-born stage and film actor, whom she married in 1939 and divorced in 1945. She married William Dozier, a film producer, in 1946, and they had a daughter. After their divorce in 1951, she was married to Collier Young, a film and television writer-producer, from 1952 to 1961, and Alfred Wright Jr., a Sports Illustrated editor, from 1964 to 1969.
In 1952, she took in a 5-year-old Peruvian girl, Martita Pareja Calderon. When the girl ran away in her teens, Ms. Fontaine was unable to bring her home because she had never formally adopted the girl in the United States.
Ms. Fontaine is survived by her sister, Ms. de Havilland; a daughter, Deborah Dozier Potter of Santa Fe, N.M.; and a grandson.
She continued acting well into her 70s. She appeared in television movies, including “The Users” (1978) and “Crossings” (1986), based on a Danielle Steel novel. A series of appearances on the soap opera “Ryan’s Hope” in 1980 led to a Daytime Emmy nomination. Her final screen role was as a supportive royal grandmother in “Good King Wenceslas” (1994) on the Family Channel. She also did theater across the United States and abroad, but never returned to film.
“Looking back on Hollywood, looking at it even today,” Ms. Fontaine wrote in “No Bed of Roses” (Morrow, 1978), her autobiography, “I realize that one outstanding quality it possesses is not the lavishness, the perpetual sunshine, the golden opportunities, but fear.” Just as “careers often begin by chance there,” she observed, “they can evaporate just as quickly.”
DON MITCHELL, A CO-STAR ON TV’S ‘IRONSIDE’
By DANIEL E. SLOTNIK
Published: December 13, 2013
- Don Mitchell, an actor best known for playing Raymond Burr’s assistant on the NBC police drama “Ironside” in the 1960s and ’70s, died on Sunday at his home in Encino, Calif.
Don Mitchell, left, and Raymond Burr in “Ironside,” on NBC.
His death was confirmed by Joseph Babineaux, the publicist for one of his daughters, the actress Julia Pace Mitchell.
“Ironside” starred Mr. Burr as Robert T. Ironside, a retired detective who used a wheelchair. Mr. Mitchell played Mark Sanger, an ex-convict who became Ironside’s bodyguard and assistant. He remained with the show from its debut as a made-for-TV movie in 1967 until it went off the air eight seasons later; along the way his character joined the police force and became a judge.
Mr. Mitchell also appeared on shows like “I Dream of Jeannie,” “The Fugitive” and “The Virginian,” and with Pam Grier and William Marshall in the 1973 film “Scream Blacula, Scream.”
According to most sources, Donald Michael Mitchell was born on March 17, 1943, in Houston. He studied acting at the University of California, Los Angeles. He reprised the role of Mark Sanger in his last credited acting role, in the TV movie “The Return of Ironside,” in 1993.
His marriages to the actress Judy Pace and to Emilie Blake Walker ended in divorce. In addition to Ms. Pace Mitchell, he is survived by another daughter, Shawn Meshelle Mitchell.
A remake of “Ironside,” starring Blair Underwood in the Raymond Burr role, appeared on NBC this fall without a Mark Sanger. It was canceled after a handful of episodes.
TOM LAUGHLIN, CREATOR OF ‘BILLY JACK’
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: December 15, 2013, at 7:29 PM ET
- NEW YORK — Actor-writer-director Tom Laughlin, whose production and marketing of “Billy Jack” set a standard for breaking the rules on and off screen, has died.
Laughlin’s daughter told The Associated Press that he died Thursday at Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Laughlin was 82 and Teresa Laughlin, who acted in the Billy Jack movies, said the cause of death was complications from pneumonia.
“Billy Jack” was released in 1971 after a long struggle by Laughlin to gain control of the low-budget, self-financed movie, a model for guerrilla filmmaking.
He wrote, directed and produced “Billy Jack” and starred as the ex-Green Beret who defends a progressive school against the racists of a conservative Western community. The film became a counterculture favorite and the theme song, “One Tin Soldier,” was a hit single for the rock group Coven.
Laughlin was in his mid-30s when he created Billy Jack with his wife and collaborator, Delores Taylor. Billy Jack was half-white, half Native American, a Vietnam veteran and practitioner of martial arts who had come to hate war. Billy Jack was first seen in the 1968 biker movie “Born Losers,” but became widely known after “Billy Jack,” the second of four films Laughlin made about him (only three made it to theaters).
“Billy Jack” was completed in 1969, but its release was delayed for two years as Laughlin struggled to find studio backing. He eventually successfully sued Warner Bros. to retain rights and — with no support from Hollywood or from theater chains — Laughlin made a radical decision: Distribute the movie himself and rent theaters to show it in. He also was among the first to advertise on television and to immediately open a movie nationwide, rather than release it gradually.
“Billy Jack” initially flopped at the box office, but generated an underground following and became a substantial commercial success and inspiration to independent filmmakers. The title character has been cited as a forerunner for such screen avengers as Rambo.
Laughlin was born in 1931 and grew up in Milwaukee. He played football for the University of South Dakota (where he met his future wife) and Marquette University, but decided he wanted to become an actor after seeing a stage production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
“He was profoundly affected by the poverty he saw on the Indian reservations near the University of South Dakota,” Teresa Laughlin said. “I think the seeds of the Billy Jack character started there.”
His early film credits included “South Pacific,” ”Gidget” and Robert Altman’s “The Delinquents.” Laughlin also was interested in directing and writing and by 1960 had directed, written and starred in “The Young Sinner.”
Laughlin wasn’t only a filmmaker. He ran for president as both a Republican and Democrat and founded a Montessori school in California. He was an opponent of nuclear energy and a longtime advocate for Native Americans and bonded with another actor-activist, Marlon Brando.
In recent years, he wrote books and attempted to make another Billy Jack movie.
“There had been lots of interest and deals would sort of come together and not happen,” said Teresa Laughlin, who noted that her father had also battled cancer. “One of the prime reasons that he couldn’t get a deal was his failing health and, I think, his inability to come to terms with that. In his mind’s eye, he remained Billy Jack.”
He is survived by his wife, a sister, three children and five grandchildren.