Olivia de Havilland
Olivia Mary de Havilland was born in Tokyo, Japan on July 1
The de Havilland family moved to California and started acting on stage
Olivia de Havilland starred in Reinhardt’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Hermia
GONE WITH THE WIND
Film producer David O. Selznick made a deal with Jack Warner to cast de Havilland as Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind
De Havilland Law
De Havilland received an unwanted contract extension from Warner Bros., sued and won
De Havilland won her first Oscar for Best Actress in To Each His Own
FINAL SCREEN APPEARANCE
De Havilland retired from acting
And You Thought You Knew Olivia de Havilland
Olivia Mary de Havilland
Olivia de Havilland was born July 1, 1916 in Tokyo, Japan to British parents. Her mother, Lillian, moved Olivia and her younger sister, Joan, to California in 1919, where the youngster began acting on stage. Olivia’s film career began in 1935 and culminated in 1988; she appeared in 49 feature films and was part of the Golden Age of Hollywood*. Olivia was a prolific actress and courtesan. She had relationships with Errol Flynn, Howard Hughes, James Stewart, and John Huston. She ultimately married twice – Marcus Goodrich and Pierre Galante – having a child with each husband.
Gone with the Wind
In 1938, film producer David O. Selznick wanted Olivia under contract so she could be cast as Melanie in Gone with the Wind. Jack Warner did not want to lend her out, but Olivia and his wife convinced him otherwise. Unlike many other young actresses, Olivia did not want to play Scarlett, stating, “Melanie was someone different. She had very, deeply feminine qualities ... that I felt were very endangered at that time, and they are from generation to generation, and that somehow they should be kept alive, and ... that’s why I wanted to interpret her role. ... The main thing is that she was always thinking of the other person, and the interesting thing to me is that she was a happy person ... loving, compassionate.” Olivia received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
The De Havilland Law
The early studio system put actors under contract – typically for seven years – but would add time to the contract for any movie the actor turned down during that contract time. When Olivia received an unwanted contract extension in 1943, she took Warner Bros. to court, using an existing portion of the California Labor Code. She won and the De Havilland Law is still on the books today. Unfortunately, she was black-listed in Hollywood and did not work for a studio for nearly two years.
While Olivia won two Academy Awards, other major awards, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she was in constant competition with her sister Joan – a rivalry that began in childhood and was further increased by their dual Best Actress nominations in 1942, which Joan won. Olivia had begun movie acting first with Warner Brothers, so when Joan was offered a contract, their mother said the name de Havilland was already taken; Joan was compelled to use Fontaine, her mother’s stage surname.
* The Golden Age of Hollywood lasted from 1930 through 1959.
Did You Know?
- Actress Joan Fontaine was Olivia’s younger sister. The sisters were Oscar rivals in 1941 as well as in life. They are the only set of siblings to have won lead acting roles.
- There is one other living actor still alive who is credited in Gone with the Wind – Mickey Kuhn – who played Beau Wilkes (Ashley Wilkes and Melanie’s son).
- Olivia de Havilland made nine movies with Errol Flynn and admitted in a Vanity Fair article that she had a crush on him. Their most famous movie together was the 1938 hit The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Quotes from Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in Gone with the Wind
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