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Olivia de Havilland tells PEOPLE her late sister Joan Fontaine [had] an astigmatism in her perception of both people and situations"

By Peter Mikelbank
Updated July 06, 2016 11:30 AM
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Contributor Huty1656407 Actress Olivia de Havilland (left) with her sister, actress Joan Fontaine, circa 1945.
Credit: Silver Screen Collection/Getty

For most of her career, two-time Academy Award winner Olivia de Havilland was embroiled in a rivalrous feud with younger sister Joan Fontaine.

Now, the woman who celebrated her 100th birthday last Friday opens up to PEOPLE about their prolonged estrangement, as she describes Fontaine as “brilliant and very gifted,” but essentially flawed.

“She was a brilliant person, very gifted and, alas, [had] an astigmatism in her perception of both people and situations, which could cause and did cause great distress in others,” she tells PEOPLE of Fontaine, who died in Dec. 2013 at the age of 96.

“I was among those and eventually this brought about an estrangement between us which did not change in the last years of her life.”

For more of Olivia de Havilland’s 100th birthday interview, pick up a copy of PEOPLE’s latest issue, on newsstands Friday.

Their rivalry first came to public attention at the 1942 Oscars, where both competed in the Best Actress category. De Havilland, who had previously been nominated two years earlier for her role as Melanie Wilkes in Gone With the Wind – she lost to costar Hattie McDaniel – found herself nominated once again, this time as Best Actress for her role in Hold Back The Dawn.

Fontaine, who received her second Oscar nomination that same year, for Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion, went on win the statuette.

Ultimately, de Havilland garnered a total of five career Oscar nominations and two Best Actress awards – for To Each His Own and The Heiress.

Over the years, authors and Hollywood experts have offered various reasons for the feud. Some root it in their childhood – which de Havilland described as tender and Fontaine as difficult – and their mother favoring one sister over the other. Other stories claim the sisters were jealous over men or each other’s successes.

De Havilland was first to be nominated for an Oscar; Fontaine, first to win one. The rivalry between the sisters was a topic of irresistible media speculation, seemingly confirmed by an episode at the 1947 Oscars ceremony, where Fontaine reportedly felt snubbed as she tried to congratulate her sister on her To Each His Own win.

“This goes back for years and years, ever since they were children,” de Havilland’s publicist reportedly said of the incident at the time.

As decades progressed, de Havilland rarely discussed their relationship. However, she opens up about their feud in this week’s PEOPLE, stating the pair remained estranged at the time of Fontaine’s death.

Fontaine, in contrast, frequently stirred the pot, taking aim at her famous sister during interviews, in her memoir, No Bed Of Roses, and in particular during a 1978 PEOPLE interview.

“I regret that I remember not one act of kindness from Olivia all through my childhood,” Fontaine said at the time.

“You can divorce your sister as well as your husbands,” she also said. “I don’t see her at all and I don’t intend to.”