Lilian Fontaine

Lilian Augusta Fontaine (née Ruse, formerly de Havilland; 11 June 1886 – 20 February 1975) was an English actress and mother of Academy Award-winning actresses Dame Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine.

Lilian Fontaine
Lilian Augusta Ruse

(1886-06-11)11 June 1886
Died20 February 1975(1975-02-20) (aged 88)
Alma materRoyal Academy of Dramatic Art
Walter de Havilland
(m. 1914; div. 1925)

George Milan-Fontaine
(m. 1925; died 1956)
ChildrenOlivia de Havilland
Joan Fontaine

Early years

Fontaine was born in Reading, Berkshire. She received a scholarship from Reading College at age 13 for her musical talent and studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.[1]

Personal life

After a stage career Fontaine married the British patent attorney Walter de Havilland (1872–1968). Her first daughter, Olivia, was born in 1916, followed by her second daughter, Joan, in 1917. Fontaine decided to end the marriage in 1919 after discovering that her husband had availed himself of the services of courtesans (oiran) in Japan; the divorce was not finalised, however, until February 1925.[2]

In 1922, the family moved to California, hoping that the climate there would improve the health of the daughters, who suffered "recurring ailments".[3] De Havilland soon returned to Japan, while his wife and daughters stayed in Saratoga, California, until 1933.[3]

In April 1925, she married the department store manager George M. Fontaine. They were married until his death in 1956. She lived with her two daughters in Saratoga, California and encouraged them to pursue acting careers.


Fontaine coached drama students when she lived in Saratoga, California, and she produced plays in a garden theater that later was named for her.[4]

After both of her daughters reached film stardom, Fontaine returned to acting with a notable role in Billy Wilder's drama The Lost Weekend (1945) as the mother of Jane Wyman's character. She also played supporting roles in two films with her daughter Joan, Ivy (1947) and The Bigamist (1953) and made a few television appearances during the 1950s.

From 1948 to 1958, Fontaine taught an acting class that developed into the Los Gatos Theatre workshop.[5]


Fontaine died on 20 February 1975, aged 88, of cancer.[6]


The Lilian Fontaine Garden Theatre in Saratoga, California, was named in honor of the actress,[4] and that city's Fontaine Drive was also named in her honor.[3]


Year Title Role Notes
1945The Lost WeekendMrs. St. James
1946The LocketLady Wyndham
1947Suddenly, It's SpringMary's Mother
1947Time Out of MindAunt Melinda
1947The Imperfect LadyMrs. Gunner
1947IvyLady Flora
1953The BigamistMiss Higgins, Landlady
1954WaterfrontHelen MartinTV Series, 1 episode
1955Studio 57Anita WilcoxTV Series, 1 episode
1955Schlitz Playhouse of StarsTV Series, 1 episode
1956Passport to DangerTV Series, 1 episode
1957Hawkeye and the Last of the MohicansMarianTV Series, 1 episode


  1. UPI (22 February 1975). "Lilian Fontaine, Actress, Dies". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  2. Bubbeo, Daniel (2002). The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies, with Filmographies for Each. McFarland & Company. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-7864-1137-5. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  3. "Joan Fontaine had fond memories of growing up in Saratoga". The Mercury News. Archived from the original on 2 June 2018. Retrieved 2 June 2018.
  4. Scheinin, Richard (13 August 2016). "Actress Joan Fontaine is funding refurbishment of Montalvo's Garden Theatre". The Mercury News. Archived from the original on 2 June 2018. Retrieved 2 June 2018.
  5. "Actress Lilian Fontaine, 88". Tampa Bay Times. Florida, St. Petersburg. 23 February 1975. p. 21–B. Retrieved 2 June 2018 via
  6. Amburn, Ellis (September 2018). Olivia de Havilland and the Golden Age of Hollywood. ISBN 9781493034109.
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