Even though we’ve all screamed, “MERCY!”, a million times, 2020 has not let up and keeps hitting us with more sads. One of the last remaining jewels in the crown that is Old Hollywood has died. And Olivia de Havilland lived a LIFE! She had just turned 104 on July 1.
The Hollywood Reporter says that Olivia died peacefully in her sleep today at her home in Paris, where she lived for more than 60 years. Olivia’s publicist confirmed the sad news.
Olivia was born in Tokyo in 1916. Her father Walter de Havilland was an English professor and her mother Lilian de Havilland (who later became Lilian Fontaine after re-marrying) was a British actress. After Olivia’s parents split, her mother raised her and her sister Joan in Saratoga, CA. At 17 years old, Olivia made her acting debut in a community theater production of Alice in Wonderland in Saratoga. And instead of going to college, she decided to play Puck in a community theater production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That move started it all for her. One of the assistants of Max Reinhardt saw Olivia in that production and was so impressed that she was recommended for a production of that same play at the Hollywood Bowl, which Max directed. Olivia was cast as the second understudy for the role of Hermia. Gloria Stuart was the lead and Jean Rouverol was the first understudy. Destiny stepped in when both Gloria and Jean quit the show and the role was Olivia’s! Olivia also starred in a tour of that production, and when Warner Bros. asked Max to direct a film version of his stage production, he cast Olivia as Hermia. Olivia ended up signing a five-year contract with Warner Bros.
After A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Olivia went on to make many, many more movies for Warner Bros. including Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, where she played Maid Marian opposite her regular leading man Errol Flynn. It was a hit and went on to become an important cinematic piece of the Golden Age of Hollywood and it also made Olivia a bigger star. Olivia has said that she and Errol were never a thing in real-life, and even though they were in love with each other, things never got to a romantic point and mostly because he was married.
When producer David O. Selznick was putting together Gone with the Wind for MGM, he made it clear that he wanted to cast Olivia as Melanie, but that was kind of difficult since she was under contract with Warner Bros. and Jack L. Warner refused to let her do the movie. Olivia asked Jack’s wife Anne to help her change his mind and they did. Olivia got her first Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actress, for playing Melanie.
After getting her first Oscar nomination and once again proving she easily had what it takes to play meatier rules, Olivia thought Warner Bros. would offer her top-tier roles but they didn’t. They gave her third-billing parts and put her in fluffy movies, and when she refused to continue to play those ingenue roles, she got her first suspension and later her second. This is when Hollywood really learned that Olivia de Havilland was not the fucking one. With help from SAG, she took on the studio system and filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. Olivia was signed to a seven-year contract, but Warner Bros. used shady loopholes, like not counting her two suspension periods as part of the seven years. So Olivia was bound to that contract beyond seven calendar years. The California Superior Court ruled in Olivia’s favor and she was released from her contract, and that ruling took away some power from the studios and was a big win for actors. It became the De Havilland Law. via Claremont.edu:
Hollywood’s studio system bound stars like de Havilland contractually for a period of up to seven years, which was the legal limit at the time. This did not stop studios from abusing those legal limits through loopholes like the suspension clause. In 1943, the suspension clause was what Warner Brothers used to keep Olivia de Havilland beyond the seven calendar years she had worked for the studio. Actors rejoiced when the powerful suspension clause was declared unlawful by de Havilland’s suite. With the De Havilland Law, actors were entitled to independence that had previously be reserved for the lucky few.
Warner Bros. vowed to never hire Olivia again and tried to mess with her career by encouraging other studios not to hire her, but Paramount ignored that and signed her to a two-picture contract. Olivia finally got to play the kind of roles she wanted and won her first Oscar, for Best Actress, for 1946’s To Each His Own. She won her second Oscar, also for Best Actress, for 1949’s The Heiress.
Throughout her career, Olivia also got Oscar nominations for Hold Back The Dawn and The Snake Pit. Olivia was offered the role of Blanche DuBois in the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire but turned it down because she couldn’t really relate to the role. Vivien Leigh ended up playing Blanche.
Olivia continued to act in movies throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s, including Lady in a Cage and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. And she also continued to fight the good fight by going up against Communist sympathy in Hollywood, testifying before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
By the 80s, Olivia was mostly living a retired life in Paris, but in 1986, she played the Dowager Empress Maria in the TV movie, Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna, and it won her a Golden Globe.
And in 2017, Hollywood got another reminder that Olivia isn’t the one to tussle with when she sued Ryan Murphy and FX over how she was portrayed in Feud: Bette and Joan. Catherine Zeta-Jones played Olivia and Olivia felt like they made her look like a catty gossip. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States and they refused to hear it. And of course, Olivia’s feud with her fellow Oscar-winning actress sister Joan Fontaine was legendary in itself. Joan died in 2013.
Olivia was married twice. She married journalist Marcus Goodrich in 1946 and gave birth to their son, Benjamin Goodrich, in 1949. Olivia and Marcus divorced in 1953. In 1955, she married Pierre Galante, an executive editor at Paris Match. Olivia gave birth to their daughter, Gisèle Galante, in 1956. Olivia and Pierre split up in 1962 and divorced in 1979, but stayed very close friends. Benjamin died in 1991.
Rest in peace to this true legend. When she makes her grand entrance into heaven, the angels better do this: