Joan Fontaine and Olivia De Havilland were born 15 months apart (RIP).
At almost 101, Olivia de Havilland has had many milestones—a 60-plus-year career, roles in 49 films, and two best actress Oscars—and now, another: She recently became the oldest woman ever to receive damehood, the feminine form of knighthood bestowed by the British Monarch, for her services to drama. Though the Gone With the Wind actress’s achievements are many, she’s equally well known for drama in her personal life, specifically her nearly lifelong feud with Joan Fontaine, her younger sister by 15 months.
Like millions of sisters before and after them, Olivia and Joan’s fighting began with the childhood bedroom they shared. Olivia told Vanity Fair it was their “biggest problem.” When they were alone, 6-year-old Olivia would scare Joan with dramatic readings of the Bible’s crucifixion scene, Joan told People in 1978. Later, Joan learned to get under Olivia’s skin by mimicking every word she said, even repeating Olivia’s admonishment that she was a “copycat.”
Their family environment didn’t help. As toddlers, the girls, who were born to British parents in Tokyo, moved to California with their mother following their father’s affair with the maid. Mrs. de Havilland remarried retail manager George Fontaine, a disciplinarian who enforced a “military childhood” complete with khaki-colored beds, Joan would later say. When they misbehaved, the Iron Duke, as Olivia nicknamed him, would offer a choice: swallow cod-liver oil, which would induce vomiting, or take a beating on the shins with a wooden hanger. After Olivia went to school with her legs covered in bruises, administrators warned Fontaine to stop, but nothing changed.