Olivia de Havilland obituary: Gone with the Wind star dies aged 104

Dame Olivia de Havilland, one of the last surviving stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, has passed away at the grand old age of 104.

The two-time Oscar-winning actress died peacefully in her home in Paris on Saturday. Her representative said the world had “lost an international treasure”.

De Havilland, who had lived in Paris since 1960, was central in taking down Hollywood’s studio system which gave actors better contracts.

She also had a tempestuous relationship with her sister, fellow Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine.

Born in Tokyo in 1916, de Havilland and her family moved to California in 1919 where she would learn her acting techniques from her mother.

She would make her acting debut in amateur theatre by playing the lead role in Alice in Wonderland. After appearing as Hermia in a local production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Warner Bros gave her the opportunity to reprise the role in the big-screen adaption of the play (1935).

From then on, de Havilland’s screen career began to take shape as she starred in the swashbuckling romance Captain Blood (1935) alongside a then unknown Errol Flynn. The pair’s chemistry received praise from critics and audiences, and they would go on to collaborate on eight more films.

After starring in a mixture of films including Anthony Adverse (1936), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), Call It a Day (1937) and The Great Garrick (1937), de Havilland would then land the memorable role of Maid Marian opposite Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood in the classic adventure film The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).

1939 proved to be a key year for de Havilland as she worked alongside Flynn again in the western Dodge City. However, her biggest role would come later that year when she played Melanie Hamilton, the best friend of Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara in the beloved romantic epic Gone with the Wind.

Her performance earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress although she lost out on the gong to co-star Hattie McDaniel.

However, her efforts to continue to play more serious roles were hampered by Warner Brothers which had complete control over its stars. When she was told Warner was adding time to her original contract as a penalty for turning down roles, she took the studio to court with the support of the Screen Actors Guild.

The California Supreme Court ruled in her favour in what became known as the De Havilland Law, which loosened the grip studios had on their actors.

During the 1940s, de Havilland starred in the drama Hold Back the Dawn (1941) as a small-town teacher seduced by a European gigolo. The performance would secure her a first Best Actress nomination at the Oscars.

Remarkably, she lost out on the gong to her sister Joan which caused friction between the pair and would escalate their rivalry for many years until the latter’s death in 2013.

De Havilland then received praise for her effective role as Josephine Norris, an unwed mother who gives up her child for adoption and then spends the rest of her life trying to undo that decision in the romantic drama To Each His Own (1946). The performance helped her win the first of two Oscars for Best Actress.

That was followed by her dual roles as twin sisters in the psychological thriller The Dark Mirror (1946) before taking on the difficult part of mental patient Virginia Cunningham in the drama The Snake Pit (1948).

After landing her fourth Oscar nomination for that particular film, de Havilland then celebrated a second Academy Award victory the following year when she played tortured heroine Catherine Sloper in the drama The Heiress (1949).

This was to be her final nomination with the Academy although she made a number of appearances at various ceremonies; the most recent being in 2003.

In the 1950s, de Havilland would give birth to two children which limited her roles on screen throughout the decade though she did appear in productions on Broadway. However, her biggest film credit of that decade came in the drama My Cousin, Rachel (1952) which landed her a second Golden Globe nomination.

In the early 1960s, she starred in the romantic drama Light in the Piazza (1962) and the psychological thriller Lady in a Cage (1964) with her last leading role being that of the cruel and conniving Miriam Deering in the ruthless flick Hush….Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964).

From then on, de Havilland’s screen career was reduced to minor supporting roles during her later life which included Airport ’77 (1977), The Swarm (1978) and The Fifth Musketeer (1979). There was also a number of appearances in television which included Roots: The Next Generations (1979), The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana (1982) and her Golden Globe-winning role as Dowager Empress Maria in Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986).

Her final screen appearance came in 1988 when she played Aunt Bessie Merryman in the television drama The Woman He Loved.

At the age of 82, she was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Hertfordshire. She was also made Dame in the 2017 Birthday Honours list, within weeks of her 101st birthday.

De Havilland is survived by her daughter Gisele.

Be the first to comment on "Olivia de Havilland obituary: Gone with the Wind star dies aged 104"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


%d bloggers like this: