Olivia de Havilland

British-American actress

A true Classic Hollywood legend, best-known for her roles in the films, Gone with the Wind, To Each His Own, The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Heiress.

Dame Olivia Mary de Havilland DBE was a British-American actress, whose cinematic career spanned from 1935 to 1988. She appeared in 49 feature films, and was one of the leading actresses of her time. She was the last major star from the Golden Age of Hollywood Cinema.

The Hollywood legend won two Academy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, and two New York Film Critics Circle Awards among other prestigious awards. Her most famous role was as Melanie opposite Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara in the 1939 epic ‘Gone With The Wind.’

Credited as a pioneer who took on the Hollywood studio system, Dame Olivia de Havilland won the De Havilland Decision of 1944, which reduced the power of the studios and extended greater creative freedom for herself and her fellow film actors.

The actress received numerous honors such as: the National Medal of the Arts and France’s Legion d’Honneur. In 2017, shortly before her 101st birthday, she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE), and was the oldest woman ever to receive the honour. She said it was ‘the most gratifying of birthday presents’.

On July 26, 2020, Dame Olivia de Havilland aged 104, died of natural causes at her home in Paris, France. At the time of her death, she was the oldest living Academy Award winner and the last surviving lead from the film ‘Gone With the Wind.’

Name:   Olivia  de Havilland
Born:   1 July 1916
Star Sign: Cancer
Died:   26 July 2020
Birthplace: Tokyo
Country: Japan
DetailsOther Names
Livvie, Mary
Walter de Havilland‎
Lilian Fontaine (née Ruse)
Married Marcus Goodrich in 1946 and divorced in 1953; In 1955, married Pierre Galante and divorced in 1979
Benjamin Goodrich and Gisèle Galante

Early Childhood and Family
Olivia Mary de Havilland was born on July 1, 1916 in Tokyo, Japan to British parents - Walter de Havilland, a British patent attorney and Lillian Ruse Fontaine, a stage actress. Her younger sister, Joan Fontaine‍ was born 15 months later. Both girls suffered from bronchial problems and in 1919, the family moved to California in search of a more agreeable climate. They settled in the village of Saratoga, south of San Francisco. However, her father abandoned the family and return to Tokyo where he later married his Japanese housekeeper.

Olivia attended Los Gatos High School in Saratoga and did well in her studies. She also participated in school plays. Lilian taught her daughters, drama, music, elocution and introduced them to the works of Shakespeare. Her sister, Joan started calling her 'Livvie', a nickname that would last throughout her life. In the spring of 1934, Olivia graduating with honors from Los Gatos High School.

The Drama Bug
In 1933, Olivia made her stage debut in an amateur production of 'Alice in Wonderland'. She appeared in several school plays, including 'The Merchant of Venice' and 'Hansel and Gretel.' She was also offered the role of Puck in the Saratoga Community Theater production of Shakespeare's - 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.'

Her passion for drama eventually led to a confrontation with her stern stepfather who thought acting was disgraceful, so when Olivia won the lead role in a school production of 'Pride and Prejudice', she was given the choice of not taking the role or leave home. Not wanting to let her school and classmates down, Olivia left home, moving in with a family friend.

A Midsummer Night's Dream
After graduation in 1934, Olivia was offered a scholarship to Mills College in Oakland to pursue her chosen career as an English teacher. However, she was spotted in a college production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. At the time, director, Max Reinhardt's was on a lookout for someone for his play.

Olivia made her stage debut as Hermia in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' at the Hollywood Bowl, and then in the Warner Brothers film of 1935. To be able to do so, she was required to sign a seven-year contract with Warner Bros.,

Warner movies
She soon became a "marquee attraction" by co-starring opposite Errol Flynn in a series of eight films, most notably, Captain Blood' (1935) and 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' (1938). They also starred together in - ‘Four’s a crowd’(1938), 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'(1936), Dodge City (1939), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), Santa Fe Trail (1940) and They Died with Their Boots On (1941).

Ms. de Havilland natural beauty and refined acting style made her particularly effective also in historical period dramas, such as 'Anthony Adverse' (1936), and romantic dramas, such as 'Hold Back the Dawn' (1941).

Gone with the Wind
In 1939, Olivia de Havilland's career reached new heights when she played the sweet and caring Melanie in the 1939 epic film, 'Gone With the Wind.' She received much critical acclaim for her performance and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. But, she lost out to Hattie McDaniel who played Mammy, making her the first African-American actress to win an Academy Award.

De Havilland Law
In 1941, Ms. de Havilland played Emmy Brown in 'Hold Back the Dawn' which resulted in her second Oscar nomination for Best Actress. But, again she lost, this time to her sister Joan for her role in 'Suspicion'. After that, Ms. de Havilland demanded better, more substantial roles.

The actress was just 27 when she risked her career by taking legal action against Warner Bros. in 1943 over her restrictive studio contract. The studio blacklisted her but she prevailed in a landmark ruling that bears her name — the De Havilland Law.

Best Actress Oscar
During the 1940s and 1950s, Ms. de Havilland played a variety of film roles. Some of her notable roles were in films like - To Each His Own (1946), The Well-Groomed Bride (1946), The Snake Pit (1948), The Heiress (1949), My Cousin Rachel (1952), Not as a Stranger (1955), The Ambassador's Daughter (1956), and The Proud Rebel (1958).

In 1946, Ms. de Havilland married author Marcus Goodrich. Fourteen months after her wedding, she won, Best Actress Oscar for 'To Each His Own' (1946) — the first of two, with the second, for the 1949, drama film, 'The Heiress'. After 'The Heiress', Ms. de Havilland spent several years on Broadway, appearing in 'Romeo and Juliet' (1951), 'Candida' (1952), and 'A Gift of Time' (1962). In 1953 she divorced Marcus Goodrich.

Transitioned to Television
In 1955, Ms. de Havilland married Pierre Galante and moved to France. The following year, she gave birth to daughter, Gisèle Galante. In 1958, she returned to the screen and appeared in 'The Proud Rebel ' with Alan Ladd. In the 1960's, she transitioned from film to television.Her first venture was in the TV Western 'Noon Wine'. She also appeared in the successful miniseries, Roots: The Next Generations (1979), and as the Russian empress in the 1986 NBC mini-series 'Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna.,' for which she received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Television Movie or Series.

Honours and Awards
In 1965, Ms. de Havilland became the first woman to head the jury at the Cannes Film Festival. She occasionally returned to feature films. Among them was the 1977 disaster movie, “Airport ’77.” Her last Hollywood film was in the 1979, 'The Fifth Musketeer.'

Ms. de Havilland was the recipient of numerous awards including: the American National Medal of Arts in 2008; the Légion d’Honneur in France; the Academy of Achievement Award; the American Legion Humanitarian Medal and the Performing Arts Gold Medal in the Arts for Artistic Achievement. In 2017, two weeks before she turned 101, Olivia de Havilland was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire,(DBE) in the Queen's Birthday honours, making her the oldest person to receive such a title.

Family and Marriage
Olivia de Havilland was married twice. In 1946, she married Marcus Goodrich, a U.S. Navy veteran and journalist. In 1953, they divorced. They had a son, Benjamin Goodrich, who died in 1991 of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, aged 42, three weeks before the death of his father.

On April 2, 1955, Ms. de Havilland married Pierre Galante, an executive editor for the magazine Paris Match, and they moved to Paris. They had daughter, Gisele Galante Chulack who is a journalist. In 1962, the couple separated but, still remained close, even after the divorce in 1979. Ms. de Havilland looked after him during his final bout with lung cancer prior to his death in 1998.

Three of de Havilland’s films (Gone with the Wind, The Heiress, and The Adventures of Robin Hood) are recognized by the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically” significant. They are being preserved by the National Film Registry.

Even though Olivia de Havilland and her sister, Joan Fontaine were both famous actresses and rivals, they managed to respect and even admire each other as well as met often on social occasions.

Olivia de Havilland signed a long-term contract with the Warner Bros' studio in 1934 with a starting salary of $200 a week.

Olivia de Havilland’s and her sister, Joan Fontaine, remain the only siblings in Oscar history to have both won lead acting honors.

Ahead of her 104th birthday milestone on July 1 of this year, the two-time Best Actress Oscar winner was photographed riding a bike

The sisters had a lifelong feud that allegedly began over competition for their mothers’ affections.

The twice-married actress also famously dated business tycoon Howard Hughes, director John Huston and actor Jimmy Stewart.

During the Second World War, de Havilland toured military hospitals and did some radio work to entertain the troops.

Olivia de Havilland is also a published author. In 1962, she published a book on French culture and tradition called Every Frenchman Has One. She currently lives in Paris.

A law is named after Olivia de Havilland . The lawsuit against Warner Bros. resulted in the collapse of the binding long-term contract system, which had plagued Hollywood for years. Effective still is the De Havilland Law.

"One must take what comes, with laughter."

"It's hard to keep on being civil when they ask you such annoying questions."

"The TV business is soul-crushing, talent-destroying and human being-destroying."

"I don't need a fantasy life as once I did. That is the life of the imagination that I had a great need for. Films were the perfect means for satisfying that need."

"I don't need a fantasy life as once I did. That is the life of the imagination that I had a great need for. Films were the perfect means for satisfying that need."

"Famous people feel that they must perpetually be on the crest of the wave, not realising that it is against all the rules of life. You can't be on top all the time, it isn't natural."

"People should not be surprised by screen chemistry because, after all, life is chemistry."

"There is a special place in my heart for that film and Melanie. She was a remarkable character - a loving person, and because of that she was a happy person. And Scarlett, of course, was not."

"To write is divine. Forget all the rest."

"Feuds are never about hate. Feuds are about pain."


Dame Olivia de Havilland died from natural causes on 26 July, 2020 at her residence in Paris, France. She is survived by her daughter, Gisele Galante, son-in-law, Andrew Chulack and niece, Deborah Dozier Potter. Her funeral was private.

Numerous Hollywood figures paid tribute to de Havilland upon the news of her death. Dame Olivia de Havilland, was among Hollywood’s most glamorous stars on the screen, an icon who was a staunch advocate for actors’ rights and creative freedom in Hollywood.

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