Joan Fontaine (1917-2013)

A former pen pal of mine died yesterday at her home in Carmel, Calif., at the age of 96. She was a movie star. My grandfather's best friend Ed somehow got to know her in London, and once helped her move into a new flat in Dolphin Square (so the story goes) and this friendliness eventually extended to my grandfather's sister-in-law, my great aunt Loretto, who started a written correspondence with Ms. Fontaine that eventually extended to me. For my birthday, my great aunt requested a signed head shot, which I received as a freshman in college. I wrote a thank-you letter that included a question about her Hitchcock movie "Suspicion," and Ms. Fontaine responded that yes, indeed, the shit ending was a severe compromise in order to satisfy studio bosses and sentimental audiences. We traded brief notes for a while. Nothing revealing. She inquired about "my studies." I inquired about her health. Just pleasantries, a couple lines here and there. Joan was generous that way with fans, sending autographs and notes until shortly before her death. For more revealing information, take a gander at her feisty responses to Vanity Fair's Proust questionnaire in 2008 -- What do you consider the most overrated virtue? "Virginity." How would you like to die? "In bed—alone." -- and Self-Styled Siren's sweet remembrance, with links to individual posts about her films. No, I haven't seen all her movies. Yes, for a brief time I would check my tiny mailbox in my dorm and there would be an envelope from a movie star, looking in on me like another great aunt. The world can be weird that way.

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