Olivia Mary de Havilland (born 1 July 1916) is a British American actress known for her early ingenue roles, as well as her later more substantial roles. Born in Japan to British parents, de Havilland and her younger sister Joan Fontaine moved to California in 1919. She is best known for her performance in Gone with the Wind (1939), and her eight co-starring roles opposite Errol Flynn, including The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938),Dodge City (1939), Santa Fe Trail (1940), and They Died with Their Boots On (1941).
Olivia de Havilland was born on 1 July 1916 in Tokyo, Japan, to parents from the United Kingdom. Her father, Walter Augustus de Havilland (31 August 1872 – 23 May 1968; aged 95), was educated at the University of Cambridge and served as an English professor at the Imperial University in Tokyo before becoming a patent attorney with a practice in Japan. Her mother, Lilian Augusta (née Ruse; 11 June 1886 – 20 February 1975; aged 88) was educated at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and became a stage actress who had left her career after going to Tokyo with her husband. Her mother would return to work after her daughters achieved fame in the 1940s with the stage name Lillian Fontaine. Olivia's paternal cousin was Sir Geoffrey de Havilland (1882–1965), an aircraft designer, notably of the De Havilland Mosquito, and founder of the aircraft company which bore his name. Her paternal grandfather was from Guernsey in theChannel Islands.
Olivia's parents married in 1914, but the marriage was not a happy one, due to her father's infidelities. Olivia's younger sister Joan de Havilland—future actressJoan Fontaine—was born on 22 October 1917. In February 1919, Lillian persuaded her husband to take the family back to England to a climate better suited for their ailing daughters. The family stopped in California to treat Olivia's bronchial condition and high temperature. After Joan developed pneumonia, Lillian decided to remain with her daughters in California, where they settled in the village of Saratoga, about fifty miles south of San Francisco. Her father abandoned the family and returned to his Japanese housekeeper, who would eventually become his second wife. Her parents' divorce was not finalized until February 1925.
Although she left the acting profession, Lillian taught her daughters to appreciate the arts, reading Shakespeare to her children—Olivia was named after the character in Twelfth Night—and teaching them music and elocution. In April 1925, after her divorce was finalized, Lillian remarried, this time to a department store owner named George M. Fontaine, whose strict parenting style soon generated animosity in his new stepdaughters. Only a year apart, the sisters also developed a rivalry between themselves that would last throughout their lives.
Olivia was educated at the Saratoga Grammar School, the Notre Dame High School in Belmont, and Los Gatos High School. An acting award at Los Gatos is named after her. In high school she excelled in oratory and field hockey, and participated in the school drama club. In 1933, she made her debut in amateur theater in the lead role in Alice in Wonderland, a production of the Saratoga Community Players based on the work of Lewis Carroll. She would later remember:
For the first time I had the magic experience of feeling possessed by the character I was playing. I really felt I was Alice and that when I moved across the stage I was actually moving in Alice's enchanted wonderland. And so for the first time I felt not only pleasure in acting but love for acting as well.
After graduating high school in 1934, Olivia was offered the role of Puck in the Saratoga Community Theatre production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. That summer, Austrian director Max Reinhardt came to California for a major new production of the same play at the Hollywood Bowl. After one of Reinhardt's assistants saw Olivia perform in the Saratoga production, he offered her the understudy position for the role of Hermia. One week before the premiere, the actress playing Hermia left to take a part in a film, and Olivia took her place. After receiving positive reviews, she went on to play Hermia through the entire engagement, as well as the four-week tour that followed. During the tour, Reinhardt received word that he would direct the Warner Bros. film version of his stage production, and he offered Olivia the film role of Hermia. Wanting to become an English teacher, she had intended to enter Mills College with a scholarship in the fall, but was persuaded by Reinhardt to accept. Soon after, the eighteen-year-old actress signed a seven-year contract with Warner Bros.
Studio publicity portrait for Gone With the Wind
De Havilland made her screen debut in Max Reinhardt's film A Midsummer Night's Dream, which was released in October 1935—following the release of her second and third films, Alibi Ike with Joe E. Brown and The Irish in Us with James Cagney, respectively. All three films received mixed reviews and disappointing public response. At this point, Warner Bros. made a decision that would have a profound impact on her career—pairing her with an unknown Australian actor named Errol Flynn in Captain Blood (1935). The popular success of the film, as well as the critical response to the on-screen couple, led to seven additional collaborations, including The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938),Dodge City (1939), Santa Fe Trail (1940), and They Died with Their Boots On (1941).
Throughout the late 1930s, de Havilland appeared in a variety of light romantic comedy films, including Call It a Day (1937), Four's a Crowd (1938), andHard to Get (1938), as well as period films such as Anthony Adverse (1936) and The Great Garrick (1937). Her refined demeanor and beautiful diction made her particularly effective in the latter films. While her performances were generally well received by critics and the public, they did not advance her career toward the more serious roles she desired. One such role was the character of Melanie Hamilton in David O. Selznick's upcoming film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's epic novel Gone with the Wind. Having read the novel, de Havilland knew she could bring the character to life on the screen. According to some sources, her sister Joan Fontaine was approached by director George Cukor to audition for the role. Interested more in playing Scarlett O'Hara, Fontaine reportedly turned him down, recommending her sister. Ultimately, Jack Warner's wife Ann was instrumental in de Havilland getting the part. She went on to play Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind (1939) and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.
On 28 November 1941, de Havilland became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
Studio publicity portrait forSanta Fe Trail
Following the critical acclaim she received for her performance in Gone with the Wind, de Havilland sought more serious and challenging roles, but was not supported in her efforts by Warner Bros. After receiving third billing in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) starring Bette Davis and Errol Flynn, she was loaned out to Samuel Goldwyn for the crime drama Raffles (1939), and then assigned to the light musical comedy My Love Came Back (1940).Throughout the early 1940s, de Havilland was becoming increasingly frustrated by the roles assigned to her, which she felt were unchallenging and insubstantial. Feeling she had proven herself capable of playing more than the demure ingénues and damsels in distress that were typecasting her, she began to reject scripts that offered her this type of role and actively sought out better roles. She concluded her long series of popular films with Errol Flynn withSanta Fe Trail (1940) and They Died with Their Boots On (1941), which contained some of their most effective scenes together. Other highlights from this period include The Strawberry Blonde (1941) with James Cagney, Hold Back the Dawn (1941) with Charles Boyer for which she received fine reviews, andPrincess O'Rourke (1943), which she considered one of the few truly satisfying characters she played for Warner Bros. In 1942, she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her performance in Hold Back the Dawn.
De Havilland and Errol Flynn inSanta fe Trail
After fulfilling her seven-year Warner Bros. contract with The Male Animal (1942), In This Our Life (1942), Government Girl(1944), and Devotion (1946)—her last Warner Bros. film completed in 1943 and released in 1946—de Havilland was informed that six months had been added to her contract for times she had been on suspension. The law then allowed studios to suspend contract players for rejecting a role, and the period of suspension could be added to the contract period. Most contract players accepted this, but a few tried to change the system, including Bette Davis who mounted an unsuccessful lawsuit against Warner Bros. in the 1930s. In August 1943, on the advice of her lawyer, de Havilland took Warner Bros. to court and was supported by the Screen Actors Guild. The Supreme Court of California ruled in her favor (case #487, 685). The decision was one of the most significant and far-reaching legal rulings in Hollywood, reducing the power of the studios and extending greater creative freedom to performers. California's resulting "seven-year rule", also known as Labor Code Section 2855, is still known today as the De Havilland Law Her legal victory won de Havilland the respect and admiration of her peers, among them her own sister Joan Fontaine, who later commented, "Hollywood owes Olivia a great deal". Warner Bros. reacted to the decision by circulating a letter to other studios that had the effect of a "virtual blacklisting". As a consequence, de Havilland did not work in a film studio for two years.
Following the release of Devotion—a highly fictionalized biography of the Brontë sisters filmed in 1943 but withheld from release during the suspension and litigation—de Havilland signed a three picture deal with Paramount Pictures. The quality and variety of her roles began to improve. In his review of The Dark Mirror (1946), James Agee noted the change, writing that although she had always been "one of the prettiest women in movies", her recent performances had proven her acting ability. He also noted that while not possessing "any remarkable talent", her performances are "thoughtful, quiet, detailed, and well sustained." Agee concluded that her acting is "founded, as some more talented playing is not, in an unusually healthful-seeming and likable temperament, it is an undivided pleasure to see." De Havilland received the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performances in 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), one of the earliest films to attempt a realistic portrayal of mental illness and an "historically important Hollywood exposé of the grim conditions in state mental hospitals". De Havilland was lauded for her willingness to play a role that was completely devoid of glamor and that confronted such controversial subject matter. She won the New York Film Critics Award for both The Snake Pit and The Heiress.
During this era, de Havilland was also notable as a staunch liberal, campaigning for Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman. In 1946, determined to protect liberalism from infiltration by communists, she provoked a highly-publicized row: concerned about reports of Stalinist atrocities, de Havilland removed pro-Communist material from speeches prepared for her by the Independent Citizens' Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions, a group later identified as a communist front organization. De Havilland became concerned that the liberal membership of the Independent Citizens' Committee was being manipulated by a small group of communists in leadership positions and that their pro-Soviet statements were damaging the election chances of the Democrats in the 1946 mid-term elections. She organized a fight to regain control of the committee and upon failing she resigned, triggering a wave of resignations from other Hollywood figures, including her own star-recruit to the reform camp, Ronald Reagan. Ironically, given her role in galvanizing Hollywood resistance to Soviet influence, de Havilland was denounced that same year (along with Danny Kaye, Fredric March, and Edward G. Robinson) as a "swimming-pool pink" by Time magazine and called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1958 due to her vocal liberal activism in this period.
De Havilland appeared sporadically in films after the 1950s and attributed this partly to the growing permissiveness of Hollywood films of the period. She declined the role of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, allegedly citing the unsavory nature of some elements of the script and saying there were certain lines she could not allow herself to speak. De Havilland denied this in a 2006 interview, saying she had recently given birth to her son when offered the role, which had been a life altering experience, and was unable to relate to the material. The role went to herGone with the Wind co-star, Vivien Leigh, who won her second Academy Award for her role.
Of her few film appearances in the 1960s, chiefly notable are Lady in a Cage (1964), as a crippled widow trapped in a lift and terrorised by intruders, Robert Aldrich's Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and Sam Peckinpah's TV film of Katherine Anne Porter's novella Noon Wine (1966). In 1965, she was the first woman to preside over a Cannes jury. De Havilland continued acting on film until the late 1970s, afterward continuing her career on television until the late 1980s, highlighted by her winning a Golden Globe and earning an Emmy Award nomination for her performance as the Dowager Empress Maria in the 1986 miniseries Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna.
In 2008, de Havilland was awarded the United States National Medal of Arts.
De Havilland with Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood
Although known as one of Hollywood's most exciting on-screen couples—having appeared in eight films together—de Havilland and Errol Flynn were never linked romantically. The eight films in which they co-starred are Captain Blood (1935), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood and Four's a Crowd (1938), Dodge City and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), Santa Fe Trail (1940) and They Died with Their Boots On (1941). Of her feelings for her co-star, de Havilland once observed:
He never guessed 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.
In an another interview, however, de Havilland claimed she knew the crush was reciprocal and stated that Flynn proposed, though de Havilland turned down the proposal as Flynn was still married to actress Lili Damita at the time.
From December 1939 to March 1942, De Havilland was involved romantically with James Stewart. At the request of Irene Mayer Selznick, the actor's agent asked Stewart to escort de Havilland to the New York premiere of Gone with the Wind at the Astor Theater on December 19, 1939. Over the next few days, Stewart took her to the theater several times and to the "21" Club. They continued to see each other back in Los Angeles, where Stewart provided occasional flying lessons and romance. According to de Havilland, Stewart in fact proposed marriage to her in 1940, but she felt that he was not ready to settle down. Their relationship was interrupted by Stewart's military enlistment in March 1941, but would continue on and off until March 1942, when de Havilland fell in love with director John Huston.
Marcus Goodrich, a Navy veteran, author and screenwriter, married de Havilland on January 24, 1946. They had one child, Benjamin Goodrich. Benjamin was born on 1 December 1949 and died on 1 October 1991 (aged 41) of cancer, three weeks before his father. Goodrich and de Havilland were divorced in 1952.
Pierre Galante, a journalist and editor of Paris Match, married de Havilland on April 2, 1955. They had one child, Gisèle Galante, who was born on 18 July 1956 . It was this marriage that prompted de Havilland to move to Paris and her adjustments to life there were recounted in her memoir, Every Frenchman Has One. The couple separated in 1962, but did not divorce until 1979.
De Havilland was lifelong best friends with Bette Davis with whom she starred in Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), It's Love I'm After (1937), and In This Our Life (1942). She remained a close friend of actress Gloria Stuart until Stuart's death in 2010, at the age of 100. In April 2008, she attended the Los Angeles funeral of Charlton Heston. In 2008, she was a surprise guest at the Centennial Tribute to Bette Davis.
Olivia de Havilland and her sister, Joan Fontaine, are the only siblings to have won lead acting Academy Awards.
Of the two sisters, de Havilland was the first to become an actress; when Fontaine tried to follow her lead, their mother, who allegedly favored de Havilland, refused to let her use the family name. Subsequently, Fontaine was forced to invent a name, taking first Joan Burfield, and later Joan Fontaine. Biographer Charles Higham records that the sisters have always had an uneasy relationship, starting in early childhood when de Havilland would rip up the clothes Fontaine had to wear as hand-me-downs, forcing Fontaine to sew them back together. A large part of the resentment between the sisters allegedly stemmed from Fontaine's perception that de Havilland was their mother's favorite child.
Both de Havilland and Fontaine were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1942. Fontaine won that year for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion over de Havilland's performance in Hold Back the Dawn. Charles Higham states that Fontaine "felt guilty about winning given her lack of obsessive career drive...". Higham has described the events of the awards ceremony, stating that as Fontaine stepped forward to collect her award, she pointedly rejected de Havilland's attempts at congratulating her and that de Havilland was both offended and embarrassed by her behavior. Several years later, de Havilland remembered the slight and exacted her own revenge by brushing past Fontaine, who was waiting with her hand extended, because de Havilland allegedly took offense at a comment Fontaine had made about de Havilland's husband. De Havilland's relationship with Fontaine continued to deteriorate after the two incidents. Charles Higham has stated that this was the near final straw for what became a lifelong feud, but the sisters did not completely stop speaking to each other until 1975. According to Fontaine, de Havilland did not invite her to a memorial service for their mother, who had recently died. De Havilland claims she informed Fontaine, but Fontaine brushed her off, claiming she was too busy to attend.
Charles Higham records that Fontaine has an estranged relationship with her own daughters as well, possibly because she discovered that they were secretly maintaining a relationship with de Havilland. Both sisters have refused to comment publicly about their feud and dysfunctional family relationships, though in an interview with John Kobal, Fontaine stated categorically that the so-called rivalry was a pure hoax, cooked up by the studio publicity hounds.
In a 1979 interview, Fontaine says the reason she stopped speaking with her sister was because Olivia wanted their mother (who was suffering from cancer) operated on at the age of 88. Joan also says that when their mother died, Olivia didn't even bother to phone to find out where she could be reached (Fontaine was on tour). Instead, Olivia sent a telegram, but it was delivered to Joan two weeks later at her next stop.
De Havilland today
De Havilland receiving the National Medal of Arts from President Bush, 2008
De Havilland has been a resident of Paris since the 1950s. In recent years, she has made only rare public appearances. In 2003, she appeared as a presenter at the 75th Annual Academy Awards, earning a minute-long standing ovation upon her entrance. In June 2006, she made appearances at tributes for her 90th birthday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 2004, Turner Classic Movies produced a retrospective piece called Melanie Remembers in which de Havilland was interviewed for the 65th anniversary of the original release of Gone with the Wind. The film's last surviving principal cast member (supporting actors Alicia Rhett, Mary Anderson and Mickey Kuhn were also alive at the time), de Havilland remembered every detail of her casting as well as filming. The 40-minute documentary is included in the film's four-disc special collector's edition.
On 17 November 2008, at the age of 92, de Havilland received the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the people of the United States. The medal was presented to her by President George W. Bush "for her persuasive and compelling skill as an actress in roles from Shakespeare's Hermia to Margaret Mitchell's Melanie. Her independence, integrity, and grace won creative freedom for herself and her fellow film actors."
In 2009, de Havilland narrated the documentary I Remember Better When I Paint, a film about the importance of art in the treatment ofAlzheimer’s. On 22 March 2011, she presented the film at a special screening in Paris.
On 9 September 2010, de Havilland was appointed a chevalier (or knight) of the Légion d'honneur, the highest decoration in France, awarded by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who told the 94-year-old actress, "You honor France for having chosen us."
In February 2011, de Havilland appeared at the César Awards in France. The president of the ceremony, Jodie Foster, introduced her and de Havilland received a standing ovation.
Honors and awards
Star on the Walk of Fame for Motion Picture, at 6762 Hollywood Blvd.
- 1940 Academy Award Nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Gone with the Wind)
- 1941 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (Hold Back the Dawn) 2nd Place
- 1942 Academy Award Nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Hold Back the Dawn)
- 1946 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (To Each His Own) 2nd Place
- 1947 Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role (To Each His Own) Won
- 1948 National Board of Review Award for Best Actress (The Snake Pit) Won
- 1948 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (The Snake Pit) Won
- 1949 Academy Award Nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role (The Snake Pit)
- 1949 Venice Film Festival Volpi Cup for Best Actress (The Snake Pit) Won
- 1949 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (The Heiress) Won
- 1950 Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role (The Heiress) Won
- 1950 Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actress (The Heiress) Won
- 1950 Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Silver Ribbon for Best Foreign Actress (The Snake Pit) Won
- 1953 Golden Globe Award Nomination for Best Motion Picture Actress, Drama (My Cousin Rachel)
- 1960 Star on the Walk of Fame for Motion Picture at 6762 Hollywood Blvd (February 8, 1960)
- 1987 Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna) Won
- 1987 Primetime Emmy Award Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries (Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna)
- 2008 National Medal of Arts, presented by the President of the United States
- 2010 Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur, awarded by the President of the French Republic
In 1960, de Havilland published her first memoir, Every Frenchman Has One. According to John Lichfield, she was working on an autobiography and had hoped to have a first draft by September 2009.