My mother’s only living sister will turn 100 on June 11.
The last link to our family history, she doesn’t remember as much as she used to, but she remembers more than many 75 year olds I know.
An amazing woman who taught a town to read for 43 years, she is an inspiration to anyone who meets her.
I’ve posted about her before and will do so again before her birthday, but in the mean time, I’d like to look at some other folks born in 1916.
Attorney James B Donovan.
Olivia de Havilland
I could write reams about all of them, but I’m going with Olivia today, well, Olivia and her sister, Joan Fontaine.
Fontaine and de Havilland
Their sisterly relationship could not possibly be more different than that of mother and my Aunt Diddie.
Mother and Diddie – her real name is Willie, but mom couldn’t say Sissy when she was a kid and it came out Diddie, it stuck, well, at least for our branch of the family – were very close all their lives.
Aunt Diddie and Mother 17 and 14
They called each other every week, visited each other when they could, and went to every family reunion held for as long as they could go.
Olivia de Havilland and her sister Joan Fontaine – well, no so much.
The only siblings to win Academy Awards in the lead actress category, the sisters had a lifelong rivalry of epic Hollywood proportion. The uneasy relationship started early. Olivia wasn’t too thrilled with having a younger sister, and Joan would later claim she resented her mother’s favoritism of Olivia.
Reality – perception – not much different.
Joan was a sickly child causing her mother to be over protective. She pushed Olivia to do with the mantra “Livvie can, Joan can’t.” de Havilland went into show biz first overshadowing her sister early on.
When studio head Mervyn LeRoy offered Fontaine her own contract, mom chimed in with the news that Warner Bros. was Olivia’s studio and Joan would have to come UP with a different last name.
It got worse.
In 1942, both sisters were nominated for an Oscar; de Havilland for Hold Back The Dawn and Fontaine for Suspicion. When Joan won, Olivia – proving she was a great actress – reacted graciously saying, “We’ve got it!” but sister Joan rejected Olivia’s attempt to congratulate her and de Havilland was offended.
In 1946, Joan and one martini too many and made some nasty comments about Livvie’s new husband. (This is the only comparison I can make; Mother was none too fond of Uncle Joe and said, “He’s got to sleep sometime.”) When Livvie read Joan’s comments she demanded an apology which never came.
The rift grew.
When Olivia accepted her own Oscar the following year, Joan went back stage to congratulate her and de Havilland turned away.
They did not speak for five years.
In 1961, things were looking better. They spent Christmas together in New York.
But, that didn’t last. In 1975, the sisters fought over the cancer treatment their mother was receiving. de Havilland wanted to consult other doctors and pushed for exploratory surgery, Fontaine did not.
Side note: neither had an MD, just sayin’.
Fontaine claimed later that de Havilland didn’t let her know when her mother passed. Fontaine was touring, and indeed, de Havilland did send a telegram. It just took two weeks to get there.
But, the feud, like all feuds ended. Fontaine died in December of 2013. de Havilland issued a press release saying she was shocked and saddened by the news.
When mother passed on in 2015, she and Aunt Diddie were the best of friends.
It is a fact that makes me happy and lives on as an example every day of my life.
Don’t be like Joan and Livvie, be like Della and Diddie.
Mother and Aunt Diddie