Olivia de Havilland
- Category : Actress
- Type : MGP
- Profile : 6/2 - Role Model / Hermit
- Definition : Split - Small (5)
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Demands 1
Olivia Mary de Havilland (born July 1, 1916) is a two-time Academy Award winning British actress and is the last surviving principal cast member from Gone with the Wind. She is the sister of Academy Award winning actress Joan Fontaine.
De Havilland was born in Tokyo, Japan, and is the elder daughter of Walter de Havilland, a British patent attorney with a practice in Japan, and the former Lilian Augusta Ruse, an actress known by her stage name of Lilian Fontaine, whom he married in 1914.
Her father was the half-brother of Charles de Havilland, who was the father of the aviation pioneer Sir Geoffrey de Havilland (1882-1965).
Her younger sister is the actress Joan Fontaine (b. 1917), from whom she has been estranged for many decades, not speaking at all since 1975.
De Havilland's family moved from Tokyo when she was two years old, settling in Saratoga, California. She attended school at Los Gatos High School and at the Notre Dame Convent Catholic girls' school in Belmont, California. Subsequently, an acting award at Los Gatos is named after her.
De Havilland's career began co-starring with Joe E. Brown in Alibi Ike in 1935. She appeared as Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream, her first stage production, at the Hollywood Bowl. The stage production was later turned into a 1935 movie. Although the stage cast was largely replaced with Warner Bros. contract players, Olivia was hired to reprise her role as Hermia. De Havilland played opposite Errol Flynn in such highly popular films as Captain Blood and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), and as Maid Marian to Flynn's Robin Hood in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). She would star opposite Flynn in eight films.
She played Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939) and received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance. She was the only one of the four main characters of Gone with the Wind to die in the film yet, ironically, in real life she outlived all the others (Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh and Leslie Howard).
In 1941, Olivia became a naturalized citizen of the United States and was becoming increasingly frustrated by the roles being assigned to her. She felt that she had proven herself to be capable of playing more than the demure ingénues and damsels in distress that were quickly typecasting her, and began to reject scripts that offered her this type of role. When her Warner Bros. contract expired, the studio informed her that six months had been added to it for times she had been on suspension; the law allowed for studios to suspend contract players for rejecting a role and the period of suspension to be added to the contract period. In theory this allowed a studio to maintain indefinite control over an uncooperative contractee.
Most accepted this situation, while a few tried to change the system; Bette Davis had mounted an unsuccessful lawsuit against Warner Bros. in the 1930s. De Havilland mounted a lawsuit in the 1940s, supported by the Screen Actors Guild and was successful, thereby reducing the power of the studios and extending greater creative freedom to the performers. The decision was one of the most significant and far-reaching legal rulings until that time in Hollywood. Her courage in mounting such a challenge, and her subsequent victory, won her the respect and admiration of her peers, among them her sister Joan Fontaine who later commented, "Hollywood owes Olivia a great deal". The studio, however, vowed never to hire her again. The court's ruling came to be known, and is still known to this day, as the "de Havilland law".
Following the release of Devotion, which had been made three years earlier, de Havilland signed a three picture deal with Paramount Studios. The quality and variety of her roles began to improve. James Agee, in his review for The Dark Mirror (1946), noted the change, and stated that although she had always been "one of the prettiest women in movies", her recent performances had proven her acting ability. He commented that she did not possess "any remarkable talent, but her playing is thoughtful, quiet, detailed and well-sustained... and an undivided pleasure to see." She won Best Actress Academy Awards for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949), and was also widely praised for her Academy Award nominated performance in The Snake Pit (1948). This was one of the earliest films to attempt a realistic portrayal of mental illness, and de Havilland was lauded for her willingness to play a role that was completely devoid of glamour and that confronted such controversial subject matter. She won the New York Film Critic's Award" for both The Snake Pit and The Heiress.
De Havilland appeared sporadically in films after the 1950s and attributed this partly to the growing permissiveness of Hollywood films of the period. She was reported to have declined the role of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, citing the unsavoury nature of some elements of the script and saying there were certain lines she could not allow herself to speak. The role eventually went to her former Gone with the Wind co-star, Vivien Leigh, who won her second Academy Award for her role. De Havilland continued acting on film until the late 1970s, afterwards continuing her career on television until the late 80s, which included her winning a Golden Globe for her performance as the Dowager Empress Maria in the 1986 miniseries Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna.
Olivia de Havilland was the first to become an actress; when her sister, Joan, tried to follow her lead, their mother, who allegedly favoured Olivia, refused to let her use the family name. So Joan was forced to invent a name (Joan Burfield, and later Joan Fontaine, utilizing her own mother's former stage name).
Biographer, Charles Higham, records that the sisters have always had an uneasy relationship, starting in early childhood, when Olivia would rip up the clothes that Joan had to wear as hand-me-downs, forcing Joan to sew them back together. A lot of the feud and resentment between the sisters stems from Joan's perception of Olivia being their mother's favourite child.
Both Olivia and Joan were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1942. Joan won first for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941) over Olivia's nomination for Hold Back the Dawn (1941). Charles Higham states that Joan "felt guilty about winning; given her lack of obsessive career drive..."
Charles Higham has described the events of the awards ceremony, stating that as Joan stepped forward to collect her award, she pointedly rejected Olivia's attempts at congratulating her and that Olivia was both offended and embarrassed by her behaviour. Several years later, Olivia would remember the slight and exact her own by brushing past Joan, who was waiting with her hand extended, because Olivia had allegedly taken offence at a comment Joan had made about Olivia's then-husband.
Olivia's relationship with Joan continued to deteriorate after the incident at the Academy Awards in 1942. Charles Higham has stated that this was the near final straw for what would become a lifelong feud, but the sisters did not completely stop speaking until 1975.
According to Joan, Olivia did not invite her to a memorial service for their mother who had recently died. Olivia claims she told Joan, but that Joan had brushed her off, claiming that she was too busy to attend.
Charles Higham records that Joan has an estranged relationship with her own daughters as well, possibly because she discovered that they were secretly maintaining a relationship with their aunt Olivia.
Both sisters have refused to comment publicly about their feud and dysfunctional family relationships.
Though Olivia and Errol Flynn were known as one of Hollywood's most exciting on-screen couples, appearing in eight films together, they never had a romantic life off screen. In an interview with Gregory Speck, Olivia stated, "He never guessed that I had a crush on him. And it didn't get better either. In fact, I read in something that he wrote that he was in love with me when we made 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' the next year, in 1936. I was amazed to read that, for it never occurred to me that he was smitten with me, too, even though we did all those pictures together."
De Havilland had relationships with John Huston, James Stewart and Howard Hughes in the early 1940s. She married novelist Marcus Goodrich in 1946 but they divorced in 1953. They had a son, Benjamin, who died of complications from Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1991.
She was married to Pierre Galante from 1955 until 1979, producing a daughter, Giselle, in 1956. When de Havilland and Galante divorced they remained on good terms, and she nursed him through his final illness in Paris, which was the stated reason for her absence from the star-studded 70th Anniversary of the Oscars in 1998.
De Havilland was good friends with Bette Davis and remained a close friend of Gloria Stuart.
A resident of Paris since the 1950s, de Havilland lives there in retirement and makes appearances rarely. She is reported to be working on an autobiography. She appeared as a presenter at the 75th Annual Academy Awards in 2003. In June of 2006, de Havilland made appearances at tributes to her for her 90th birthday at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences and the Los Angeles County Art Museum.
In 2004, Turner Classic Movies put together a retrospective piece called Melanie Remembers in which de Havilland was interviewed for the 65th anniversary of Gone with the Wind's original release. Then 88 years old and the only surviving principal cast member, de Havilland remembered every detail of her casting (she was in a contract with Warner Bros., and at first they refused to let her play Melanie for David O. Selznick) as well as filming (Leigh could go immediately from break to filming, and fall into her Scarlett O'Hara part, while Olivia needed 20 minutes to focus to get back into Melanie.) The 40-minute documentary can be seen on the Gone with the Wind four-disc special collector's edition.
With the death of Katharine Hepburn in 2003, many consider Olivia de Havilland and her sister Joan Fontaine to be the last remaining great leading ladies of 1930s and 40s Hollywood.