CARMEL, Calif. — Academy Award-winning actress Joan Fontaine, who found stardom playing naive wives in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion and Rebecca and also was featured in films by Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang and Nicholas Ray, died Sunday. She was 96.
Fontaine, the sister of fellow Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland, died in her sleep in her Carmel, Calif., home Sunday morning, said longtime friend Noel Beutel. Fontaine had been fading in recent days and died "peacefully," Beutel said.
In her later years, Fontaine had lived quietly at her Villa Fontana estate about 5 miles south of Carmel, enjoying its spectacular view of windswept Point Lobos.
Fontaine's pale, soft features and frightened stare made her ideal for melodrama and she was a major star for much of the 1940s. For Hitchcock, she was a prototype of the uneasy blondes played by Kim Novak in Vertigo and Tippi Hedren in The Birds and Marnie. The director would later say he was most impressed by Fontaine's restraint. She would credit George Cukor, who directed her in The Women, for urging her to "think and feel and the rest will take care of itself."
She married four times. Fontaine's first husband was actor Brian Aherne; the second, film executive William Dozier; the third, film producer Collin Hudson Young. The ex-husband of actress Ida Lupino, Young produced The Bigamist, with Lupino and Fontaine starring and Lupino directing. Fontaine's last husband was Sports Illustrated golf editor Alfred Wright Jr.
Dozier and Fontaine had a daughter, Deborah Leslie, whose godmother was actress Maureen O'Sullivan. Fontaine later adopted a child from Peru, Maritita Pareja.