Pop-biography's most tiresome gossip is back yet again, this time rehashing the well-known sibling rivalry between Olivia...

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SISTERS: The Story of Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine

Pop-biography's most tiresome gossip is back yet again, this time rehashing the well-known sibling rivalry between Olivia and Joan--but more often merely plodding through their careers, marriages, troubles. There's virtually no new material here; Higham occasionally disputes Fontaine's No Bed of Roses memoir, but largely just recycles it; and though the book opens, breathlessly, with an old landlady's recollection of the pre-teen sisters (""But Joan! We all hated her!""), there's little in the way of fresh interview-quotes. So here again are the early years: birth in Tokyo, where papa was a leading British patent-attorney and crude philanderer; to California with a vain stage-mother, who favored Olivia; the sexual abuses of a stepfather. And here again, with monotonous back-and-forthing, are the two adult life stories. Earnest, ambitious Olivia goes from theater to films, from small roles to GWTW and two 1940s Oscars, ""eternally contentious"" (especially with Jack Warner); offstage, there are ""doomed"" crushes on Errol Flynn and John Huston, a ""platonic"" affair with Howard Hughes, a real affair with James Stewart, marriage and motherhood, hard times in European later years. Meanwhile, wittier, earthier Joan peaks early in Rebecca and Suspicion, doesn't grow as an actress; she's painfully deflowered by Conrad Nagel (gynecological problems), unwisely wed to Brian Aherne, romanced by Aly Khan and John Houseman. So despite remarriage and motherhood, Joan winds up a happy hedonist, ""always looking for new thrills"". . . while love-needy Olivia leads a ""cramped, grim, and disciplined existence."" Dreary, unpleasant, and pointless--with inane details, digressions into Higham-obsessions (his Errol Flynn theories, his bizarre Fredric March-phobia), and the familiar limited/tacky vocabulary.

Pub Date: June 18, 1984

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Coward-McCann

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1984