Oscar Impact: Fontaine, Joan

Not every artist has enjoyed the Oscar's benefits during the studio system. Joan Fontaine was under contract to producer David O. Selznick, who made huge profits from loaning her out to other studios. Fontaine's loan-out fee jumped from $25,000 to $100,000 after her first nomination (for Hitchcock's “Rebecca”), but she was still paid her usual fee, $1,200 per week.

After Joan Fontaine won the Best Actess for Hitchcock's “Suspicion” (1941), her fee went up, but she received only $100,000 out of the $385,000 that Selznick made. Fontaine's market value, like that of other winners, went up, but she didn't reap the rewards due to her exploitative contracts with Selznick.

Furthermore, Fontaine didn't work for long periods of time while Selznick was holding out for higher fees, cashing in on her new status.

The Oscar's media effect is sudden and quite shocking to most achievers. Joan Fontaine didn't exaggerate when she described the Oscar winners as “minor members of royalty suddenly elevated to the throne.” After Fontaine's win, “the press clamored for some sittings, still photos, and a scrap or tidbit to fill the endless gossip columns, fan magazines, Sunday supplements.”

And this was back in the 1940s, when American society was not as obsessed with celebs as it bcame over the past two decades. Elevated recognition has “pragmatic” benefits too, such as “the best table in restaurants, preferential treatment whenever one traveled.” For Fontaine, this “was a fishbowl experience until the next year's awards, when a new winner would occupy the throne.”