Remembering Joan Fontaine & Peter O'Toole

Library Life
Joan Fontaine and Gary Cooper at the Academy Awards in 1942
Joan Fontaine and Gary Cooper at the Academy Awards in 1942
Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia
Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia

Hollywood lost two of its great ones this weekend.

Joan Fontaine, a major star of the ‘30s and ‘40s, died at age 96 in her Carmel, California home.

The sister of fellow actress Olivia de Havilland (with whom she maintained a lifelong feud), the Japanese-born Fontaine (her British parents worked in Tokyo) shot to prominence when Alfred Hitchcock picked her to star in his 1938 production of Rebecca, which won the Oscar for best picture.

Just a few years later Fontaine won the Academy Award for best actor in Suspicion, again directed by Hitchcock.

Among her films were Jane Eyre with Orson Welles, Emperor Waltz with Bing Crosby, the costume drama Ivanhoe, and the controversial Island in the Sun, in which her character had an interracial romance with Harry Belafonte.

She largely dropped out of films in the late ‘50s (allegedly after being asked to portray Elvis Presley’s mother) and concentrated on stage and television work.

Peter O’Toole, who will forever be identified with his title performance in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, died at age 81 in a London Hospital. The Irish actor was nominated for eight Oscars, but never won in competition (a decade ago he was awarded an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement).

He played King Henry II twice, in Becket and The Lion in Winter. Other notable films included Lord Jim, How to Steal a Million, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, The Ruling Class, Man of La Mancha, and The Stunt Man.

An accomplished carouser (he titled his memoir Loitering with Intent), O’Toole parodied his own reputation by playing a boozy Errol Flynn-ish swashbuckler in the 1982 comedy My Favorite Year. “I’m not an actor,” his character protests when asked to act. “I’m a movie star!”

Many films featuring these two stars are available on DVD from the Library’s audio-visual collection.

Joan Fontaine:

Gunga Din (1939)
Rebecca (1940)
Suspicion (1941)
Jane Eyre (1943)
Ivanhoe (1952)
Island in the Sun (1957)

Peter O’Toole:

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Becket (1964)
How to Steal A Million (1966)
The Night of the Generals (1967)
The Lion in Winter (1968)
Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969)
Masada (TV miniseries, 1981)
My Favorite Year (1982)
The Last Emperor (1987)
King Ralph (1991)
Troy (2004)
Venus (2005)
One Night with the King (2006)
Ratatouille (2007)

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.

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