One of the greatest legends of the silver screen has taken her final bow. Oscar-winning actress Olivia de Havilland has passed away, mere weeks after celebrating her 104th birthday. Dame Olivia de Havilland was born July 1, 1916, in Tokyo, Japan. She died July 25, 2020, of natural causes at her home in Paris, France.
Olivia de Haviland was born in Japan of British parents, but grew up and was educated in the United States of America. She moved to France in the 1950s, and bought a home in her beloved Paris.
De Havilland was one of the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Her younger sister (and professional rival) was Joan Fontaine (1917 – 2013). Fontaine was their stepfather’s name. Dame Olivia starred in 49 movies between 1935 and 1988. Her first movie role was as Hermia in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Mickey Rooney played Puck and Jimmy Cagney was Nick Bottom.
Although De Havilland and Cagney would co-star in three movies, she was best known for appearing opposite Errol Flynn. Flynn and De Havilland appeared together in nine movies. She was the Maid Marian to his Robin in the classic The Adventures of Robin Hood. The palomino stallion she rode in the movie, Golden Cloud, was later sold to Roy Rogers and renamed Trigger.
She was perhaps best known for her role in Gone With The Wind, where she earned the first of her eight Oscar nominations as Melanie Wilkes, Scarlett’s friend and sister-in-law.
Gone with the Wind was a Civil War drama that won hearts and Oscars but ultimately became a symbol of the country’s systemic racism for its romanticized portrayal of the antebellum South and its sanitized treatment of the crushing horrors of slavery.
WarnerMedia pulled the film from its streaming service during the national protests sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd after a white Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground by leaning on his neck for several minutes as other police officers appeared to look on dispassionately.
De Havilland was the last survivor among the film’s principal actors, who included Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard and Hattie McDaniel.
Ms. de Havilland was one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild, and served on its board of directors from 1941-42 and as treasurer from 1947-48. During WWII she sued Warner Brothers for re-interpreting her contract at a time when actors’ contracts with studios resembled 17th century indentured servitude.
Current SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said of de Havilland, “She was not only beautiful and talented, she was a courageous visionary and an inspiration to generations. She was a founding member of Screen Actors Guild in a time when organizing and joining a union was often a dangerous enterprise. She sued her studio, Warner Bros., in 1943 for extending her contract past its original seven-year expiration date. SAG-AFTRA members will be forever grateful to Ms. de Havilland for her contributions to the founding of our union and the protection of its members. She was a marvel and a legend. Rest in peace.”
Olivia de Havilland became a naturalized US citizen in 1941. Despite this, Queen Elizabeth II named her a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2017. She won both the Oscar and the Golden Globe in 1949 for starring in The Heiress. France made her a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur in 2010. Shee was granted an honorary doctorate by the University of Hertfordshire in 1998.
Thierry Fremaux the director of the Cannes Film Festival, paid homage to de Havilland on Sunday, noting that she was the first female president of Cannes’ jury in 1965.
“At a time when we question the place of women in cinema, we must remember Olivia de Havilland for her strength in facing off the studios to liberate actors from contracts which exploited them,” said Fremaux. “Strength and courage which she never stopped demonstrating through her career and her life. As for the rest, she was a queen of Hollywood and will also be revered as such in the history of cinema.”
DeHavilland was married twice, first to American novelist Marcus Goodrich (1897 – 1991), author of the novel Delilah, and father of her son Benjamin Goodrich, a nathematician for Lockheed Missiles and Space Company. They divorced in 1953. Her second husband was Pierre Galante, a French writer and editor. They were married from 1955 until 1979. They had a daughter, journalisr Gisèle Galante, who survives her mother.