This is a stab at an iPhone obituary for Joan Fontaine, whose death at age 96 was reported today. (I’m sitting at a Pete’s Coffee across the street from the Aero, where Michael Mann‘s digitally reconstituted Thief will screen at 7:30 pm.). I heard of her departure a couple of hours ago, and like everyone else I flashed back to Fontaine’s vulnerable, haunted performance as Laurence Olivier‘s young second wife in David O. Selznick and Alfred Hitchcock‘s Rebecca, the 1940 melodrama that launched her as a big-name actress.

Fontaine won a Best Actress Oscar for playing another vulnerable, haunted wife (this time betrothed to Cary Grant‘s disreputable Johnny Aysgarth) in Hitchcock’s Suspicion, which opened the following year. But Fontaine seems a bit trapped in this possible-murder tale in more ways than one. Suspicion is a somewhat flawed film because of a notorious cop-out ending. She seems a fool for forgiving and supporting Grant at the end. Rebecca is the better crafted effort, I feel, not to mention spookier (it’s a kind of ghost story) and more atmospheric. Fontaine is much more anguished and aching in it. She carries a greater load on her back.

May I say something I’ve never said before? I was never able to imagine Fontaine as a woman who had indulged in, much less enjoyed, heterosexual thrusting. There was always something vaguely dykey about her, and I don’t mean that as any kind of negative. That was her allure in a sense — the closeted lesbian of a bygone era. A bit mousey, spectacle-wearing, well-mannered. Even when young she was the proverbial librarian or premature spinster. She would have been a great lesbian if the right role had come along, or rather if she’d been born later. She could have played the older seducer in The Killing of Sister George.

Fontaine lived about 15 years longer than Peter O’Toole, whose death also broke today, poor fellow. We should all have 96 more or less healthy years. Rest in peace .