Dame Olivia Mary de Havilland DBE (1 July 1916 - 25 July 2020) was a British-American actor.
At the time of her death at the age of 104, she was one of the last living leading ladies of The Golden Age of Hollywood and had a career spanning over 50 years. She won two Academy Awards for Best Actress during her illustrious career, first in 1946 for To Each His Own and secondly in 1949 for The Heiress. She is best known for her role as Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in what is still (adjusted for inflation) the American box-office all-time champion, Gone with the Wind. She is also renowned for other classics like Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, many of them collaborating with Errol Flynn. She was the last surviving performer of most of these films; for example, as of the date of her passing, GWTW has one surviving credited actor — Mickey Kuhn, who at age 7 played Beau Wilkes (son of Ashley and Melanie).
De Havilland and Flynn appeared in eight films together and were considered to be among Hollywood's best film couples. In fact, Olivia admitted to having a crush on him, but despite Flynn being The Casanova "he never had his wicked way with me." Flynn himself confessed to being in love with her in his autobiography, though he died too soon for the two of them to begin a relationship. De Havilland's responses on his mutual crush have varied; at times she claimed to have been surprised that he was also attracted to her, at other times she claimed to have been aware of it but turned him down because he was too volatile for a married life.
Olivia was also at the center of many feuds. After planning to leave Warner Bros. so she could seek out more varied roles, the studio responded by using Loophole Abuse to lengthen her contract for every part she rejected. De Havilland struck back by filing a lawsuit that established the De Havilland Law, freeing performers at the cost of Olivia never again being hired by Warner Brothers.
One of her largest feuds was her lifelong one with her sister, fellow actor Joan Fontaine. The two had an uneasy relationship since their childhood, and Joan had been viewed as The Un-Favourite, hence why she was not allowed to act with her birth family name. The two often competed for roles and movies and were even nominated simultaneously for an Academy Awardnote . The sisters remained estranged from each other, and their silence to each other during their mother's funeral cemented this for good. When Joan passed away on December 16th, 2013, Olivia stated that she was "shocked and saddened" by the news.
At the end of her life, she lived in France. She occasionally returned to America for brief appearances, such as her speech at the 75th Academy Awards and for the 65th anniversary of Gone With The Wind, for which she provided a behind-the-scenes commentary. Her most recent role was as the narrator of the 2009 documentary I Remember Better When I Paint. She was rather forcibly dragged back into the spotlight by the release of Feud in 2017, where she was deeply offended by her portrayal and sued FX. She was also the oldest person ever to be awarded a damehood, which was announced about two weeks before her 101st birthday. She passed away peacefully in her sleep a few weeks after her 104th birthday in July 2020.
She was also the first cousin of famous British airplane designer Sir Geoffrey de Havilland.
De Havilland films with their own trope page:
- A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) (film debut)
- Captain Blood (1935)
- Anthony Adverse (1936)
- The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)
- It's Love I'm After (1937)
- The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
- Four's a Crowd (1938)
- Gold Is Where You Find It (1938)
- Hard to Get (1938)
- Dodge City (1939)
- Gone with the Wind (1939) - nominated for Best Supporting Actress
- Raffles (1939)
- My Love Came Back (1940)
- Hold Back the Dawn (1941) - nominated for Best Actress
- The Strawberry Blonde (1941)
- They Died with Their Boots On (1941)
- In This Our Life (1942)
- Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)
- Government Girl (1943)
- Princess O'Rourke (1943)
- The Dark Mirror (1946)
- To Each His Own (1946) - won Best Actress
- The Snake Pit (1948) - nominated for Best Actress
- The Heiress (1949) - won Best Actress
- My Cousin Rachel (1952)
- Libel (1959)
- Light in the Piazza (1962)
- Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
- Airport '77 (1977)
- The Swarm (1978)
Tropes related to de Havilland's work include:
- Beauty Inversion: In The Snake Pit she deliberately wore clothes that were too big for her, the make-up artist blotted her eyebrows with powder, she went without a bra and girdle in the hospital scenes and she and the other women in the cast were forbidden from having their hair done.
- Creator Backlash:
- Played with when it comes to Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte. She liked working alongside Bette Davis and enjoyed working on the film, but has said: "I can't say it's a picture I'm proud to have put on my resume."
- Princess O'Rourke is thought to be the film that was the last straw for her, and convinced her to sue Warner Bros over contract rights.
- Disowned Adaptation: She flatly refused to watch or discuss the first season of Feud, which depicts the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford which she was tangentially involved with, saying it was wrong to make such a portrayal of real people who aren't alive to give their side of the story. She wasn't fond of how her feud with her sister was portrayed either upon hearing of it.
- Dyeing for Your Art: She went on a special diet to look convincingly sick and frail for The Snake Pit.
- Enforced Method Acting: To have Olivia appear convincingly weary and worn for a scene in The Heiress where her character realizes she's been jilted, William Wyler had her pack heavy books into the suitcases she was carrying.
- Fake Brit: As Maid Marian in The Adventures of Robin Hood.
- Good Is Boring: Inverted. She was frequently cast as wholesome good girls but didn't mind the typecasting."Actually I think playing bad girls is a bore; I have always had more luck with good girl roles because they require more from an actress."
- The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: She and her sister Joan never got along. Even as kids, they constantly fought, and not in the normal way siblings fight as kids. Their parents pitted them against each other and things only got worse from there. While they were first getting started in Hollywood, she tried to send Joan to boarding school so she wouldnt steal her thunder. Later on, it was over men and awards. In 1942, Joan won an Oscar over her and she didnt congratulate her. When she won in 1947, she snubbed Joan in her speech. They were closer throughout the 50s and 60s but ultimately fell out for good over how to care for their mother when she got sick. They never really spoke after she died in 1975.
- I Am Very British: Despite never living in the UK at any point in her childhood, De Havilland recalled in an interview that her mother made her and Joan talk RP throughout their schooling, and they were often mocked by their American classmates.
- The Ingenue: Frequently played these roles, including her most famous one as Melanie.
- The Other Marty:
- Playing Against Type: Heavily in Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte - as a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: For the third act of Hold Back the Dawn, the focus shifts to the POV of Olivia's character Emmy. This is because Charles Boyer and the director had gotten into an argument when the former insisted a certain scene where Georges talks to a cockroach be cut. The director responded by cutting most of his dialogue and giving Emmy more screen time.
- Reclusive Artist: She was extremely private after her retirement, refusing all interviews as she preferred people remember her in her prime.
- Romance on the Set:
- Subverted. She confessed to having a crush on Errol Flynn when they worked together, but they never became involved.
- She did, however, have a very passionate affair with John Huston while filming In This Our Life. Jack L. Warner describes it..."When I saw the rushes I said to myself, 'Oh-oh, Bette has the lines, but Livvy is getting the best camera shots'."
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: After her death in July 2020, a montage of outakes with her blowing her lines and cursing began making the rounds on social media. It's hilariously endearing to hear her blunder to a stop and say "Oh, Christ, son of a bitch" in that distinctive accent.
- Those Two Actors:
- Tuckerization: She's named after the heroine of Twelfth Night.
- Typecasting: As an Ingenue, as noted, and trying to avoid it led to her studio dispute.
- What Could Have Been:
- She was originally going to be up for Best Actress for Gone with the Wind, but the studio didn't want her and Vivien Leigh competing against each other. So she was put into Best Supporting Actress. She wasn't pleased about it but expressed her support when Hattie McDaniel won the award.
- She was not the first choice for Maid Marian in The Adventures of Robin Hood. The studio records say that the original actor (whose name is blacked out) became pregnant out of wedlock and couldn't accept the role.
- The plan for The Heiress was to re-team Errol Flynn with her again. But they soon realized the part of Morris would require some more subtle acting than he was known for — and they cast Montgomery Clift.
- She turned down the part of Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire because she had just given birth and "couldn't relate to the material".
- Two of Olivia's Oscar-nominated roles — The Snake Pit and To Each His Own — were turned down by Ginger Rogers. The latter eventually wrote:"Olivia knew a good thing when she saw it. Perhaps she should thank me for such poor judgement."
- She was offered the role of Lisolette in The Towering Inferno but turned it down, and it went to Jennifer Jones.