Goodnight, Ms. Fontaine

One of our local celebrities, Joan Fontaine, passed away over the weekend. The famous Hollywood actress spent her retirement years living in the Carmel Highlands. Coincidentally, the two Alfred Hitchcock films Rebecca and Suspicion, which made her a big-name star, both contained brief scenes filmed right here on the Monterey Peninsula. The first film in 1940 got her an Academy Award nomination, while her second performance the following year earned the Oscar itself.

I had the opportunity to meet Ms. Fontaine a few times in the 1980s when I worked at Brinton's in Carmel. She was a regular customer there. Among the store's staff she had a reputation as being kinda fussy, but in my dealings with her I always found her to be very pleasant, easygoing, and friendly. I remember one occasion when she was seeking advice on the best way to remove mildew from a patio umbrella. It was a rather mundane conversation, but an enjoyable memory nevertheless.

One of the last times I saw her was in the mid 1990s when I was assistant manager at the now-demolished Crossroads Cinemas at the mouth of Carmel Valley. She came to the show with a couple of friends, a man and another woman. On the east wall of our lobby was a mural, a montage containing hundreds of movie star photos from the 1920s up to about 1970 when the theater was built. The group began studying it, and the man started naming people he recognized. At one point he said to Fontaine "There's you..." as he continued putting names to faces.

AHA! I thought. I had sometimes looked for Joan Fontaine on that mural, but never could find her. Now I knew she was there, but I  still didn't know exactly where. I couldn't just go up and ask them. Company policy was very clear, if a celebrity was in the building we were absolutely not permitted to acknowledge that we recognized them. Celebrities were to be treated exactly the same as any other customer.

So I devised a little trick. I went up to them and said "I'll give you free popcorn if you can name all of the people up there." An impossible task, of course, at least in the limited time before the next show started. But it worked. The gentleman said "What will you give me if I show you someone on this wall who is in this building right now?" He then tapped his finger on Fontaine's picture, then made a sweeping gesture towards his companion and introduced "Miss Joan Fontaine." She then gave me a timid little wave and a pleasant little smile. I think I said something like "I'm happy to meet you," and then they turned and went into the auditorium.

It was nice having that lady around. She will be missed.


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