OdH Biography, Awards, and Interviews

Olivia de Havilland Biography

Olivia Mary de Havilland was born in Tokyo, Japan on July 1, 1916 to Walter Augustus de Havilland and Lillian Augusta Ruse de Havilland.

Walter Augustus de Havilland (August 31, 1872 - May 23, 1968) was a British patent attorney who became professor of Law at Waseda University (Tokyo, Japan) and was one of the first Westerners to play the game of Go at a high level.

Lillian Augusta Ruse de Havilland Fontaine (June 11, 1886 - February 20, 1975) was a British actress. Lillian Ruse received a scholarship from the Reading College at age 13 for her musical talent and studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. After a stage career she married Walter Augustus de Havilland. Lillian decided to end the marriage in 1919 after discovering that her husband used the sexual services of geisha girls; the divorce was not finalized, however, until February 1925. In April 1925, she married the department store manager George M. Fontaine. They were married until George's death in 1956.

Olivia's sister, Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland, (known professionally as Joan Fontaine), was born October 22, 1917. In 1942, Fontaine won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941), making her the only actor ever to win an Academy Award in a film directed by Hitchcock. Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland are the only set of siblings to have won lead acting Academy Awards. The sisters had a long-standing feud. Joan Fontaine passed away of natural causes on December 15, 2013. After Fontaine's death, de Havilland released a statement saying she was "shocked and saddened" by the news.

While attending high school in California, de Havilland became interested in acting. She played Hermia in an amateur production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. She was spotted by director Max Reinhardt who cast her in his professional production of Midsummer at the Hollywood Bowl. She then played Hermia in the 1935 movie version of Midsummer. On the strength of her performance, de Havilland was signed to a long-term contract by Warner Brothers.

Her critically acclaimed portrayal of Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind came on loan out to David O. Selznick. When she lost the Best Supporting Actress Oscar to Hattie McDaniel, she was consoled by Irene Selznick who told her it was very important to the industry that an African American woman win the award and that Olivia's time would come.

From 1943 to 1946, de Havilland didn't work because she was involved in a legal battle with Warner Brothers. Warners had tried to add the time she was suspended for refusing to take a part to her seven-year contract. She won the case and the "de Havilland Law" became famous.

De Havilland won two Best Actress Oscars for her roles in To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949). In the 1950s she appeared on Broadway and moved to France with her second husband, Pierre Galante, the editor of Paris Match. In the 1960s she remained busy in Lady in a Cage and Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte as well as writing the semi-autobiographical novel, Every Frenchman Has One. Her career continued into the '70s and '80s in both films and telefilms. She won a Primetime Emmy and a Golden Globe for her performance in 1986's Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna. She is presently the only surviving member of the primary cast of Gone with the Wind and is sought after for interviews, granting a few of importance.

Husbands and Children

Pierre Galante (April 2, 1955 - April 30, 1979); (divorced) 1 daughter, Gisele - (Pierre Galante died of lung cancer in 1998.)

Marcus Goodrich (August 26, 1946 - August 28, 1953) (divorced); 1 son, Benjamin - (Benjamin, who had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease at 19, died at 42 in 1991.)

Trivia

Height - 5 feet 3 1/2 inches (161.29 cm) (1.6129 m)

In 1965, she became the first female president of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival.

Olivia's cousin was Sir Geoffrey de Havilland (1882-1965), the British aviation pioneer and designer of aircraft such as the wartime Mosquito fighter.

Received the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush at a White House ceremony in the East Room on November 17, 2008, "for her persuasive and compelling skill as an actress in roles from Shakespeare's Hermia to Margaret Mitchell's Melanie. Her independence, integrity, and grace won creative freedom for herself and her fellow film actors."

As of 2016 she is the earliest surviving recipient of a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. She was nominated in 1939 for Gone with the Wind (1939).

As of 2016 she is the earliest surviving recipient of a Best Actress Oscar nomination. She was nominated in 1941 for Hold Back the Dawn (1941).

Biography (print)

Higham, Charles. Sisters: The Story of Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine (Coward, McCann, 1984).

Thomas, Tony. The Films of Olivia de Havilland (Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1980).

De Havilland, Olivia. Every Frenchman Has One (Random House, 1961).

Awards

Year Award Category Film Result
1939 Academy Award Best Actress in a Supporting Role Gone with the Wind Nominated
1941 Academy Award Best Actress in a Leading Role Hold Back the Dawn Nominated
1946 Academy Award Best Actress in a Leading Role To Each His Own Won
1948 Academy Award Best Actress in a Leading Role The Snake Pit Nominated
1948 National Board of Review Award Best Actress The Snake Pit Won
1948 New York Film Critics Circle Award Best Actress The Snake Pit Won
1949 Academy Award Best Actress in a Leading Role The Heiress Won
1949 Golden Globe Award Best Motion Picture Actress The Heiress Won
1949 New York Film Critics Circle Award Best Actress The Heiress Won
1949 Venice Film Festival Volpi Cup Best Actress The Snake Pit Won
1952 Grauman's Chinese Theatre Hand prints and footprints N/A Honored
1953 Golden Globe Award Best Motion Picture Actress My Cousin Rachel Nominated
Feb. 8, 1960 Hollywood Walk of Fame Star Motion Picture at 6762 Hollywood Blvd. N/A Honored
1986 Golden Globe Award Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna Won
1986 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna Won
1998 Honorary Doctorate University of Hertfordshire N/A Honored
2006 Online Film and Television Association Film Hall of Fame N/A Honored
2008 National Medal of Arts N/A N/A Honored
2010 Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur N/A N/A Honored
2016 Oldie of the Year N/A N/A Honored

Interviews

Olivia de Havilland at the Oscars March 23, 2003
Olivia de Havilland at the Oscars March 23, 2003

Actress De Havilland Recalls Golden Era

April 16, 2003

At 86, Olivia de Havilland retains her classic loveliness.

The two-time Oscar winner, who made a rare trip to Hollywood from her Paris home last month to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Academy Awards, wore a simple black dress and pearls for an interview at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

A charming storyteller, she exudes serenity, even in the face of two failed marriages and long, devastating illnesses that claimed the lives of her son and second husband.

De Havilland was born in Tokyo to a father who was a British patent attorney and a mother who had been an actress. The couple divorced when she was 3, and her mother brought her and her younger sister (who became actress Joan Fontaine) to California, settling on the peninsula south of San Francisco.

When did she decide to become an actress?

"I didn't really know what I wanted to be in life when I was graduating from high school," de Havilland said. "I had been in school plays and won a scholarship to Mills College, which had a celebrated drama and speech arts course. While I was at Mills, I thought I would find out what I wanted to be."

During the summer after high school, she played Puck in an amateur production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Hearing that producer-director Max Reinhardt was coming to California to stage the play, she asked permission to attend rehearsals.

She ended up playing Hermia in the lavish production at the Hollywood Bowl. Warner Bros. decided to film the play and hired Reinhardt and two of the actors, de Havilland and Mickey Rooney, who played Puck. The studio offered her the role of Hermia in the 1935 film on condition that she sign a long-term contract.

"After Dream, they put me in Alibi Ike, a baseball picture with Joe E. Brown," she recalled with dismay. That was followed by a string of mostly forgettable films that capitalized on her youthful beauty.

She does cherish two movies from those early years: Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, both with Errol Flynn, and both huge hits.

Her opinion of Flynn: "He was a devil, he teased me, he was unfair and very hard to work with. But nonetheless, those films did work."

During her glory years, de Havilland was squired to Hollywood events by a number of handsome men, notably Jimmy Stewart and Howard Hughes.

"Jimmy had wanted to take me to a party at the (David O.) Selznicks," she recalled. "Howard had already told me that he intended to take me to it. I told both of them I couldn't go because I was terribly sick with a throat infection.

"Hughes insisted that I should go despite my 101-degree temperature. So we arrived, and who should be sitting in the bar but Jimmy Stewart, who was the single client of the bartender, who was Errol Flynn. We had drinks, and I danced for six hours and went home without a temperature."

Gone With the Wind marked a leap forward for de Havilland, who played Melanie Hamilton opposite Clark Gable (Rhett Butler) and Vivien Leigh (Scarlett O'Hara). The genius behind the 1939 epic, she observed, was producer David O. Selznick, who retained his "undying vision" despite changes of directors.

After a year in preparation and a few weeks of directing, George Cukor was dumped for Victor Fleming. When Fleming collapsed from overwork, he was replaced by Sam Wood, who stayed on after Fleming returned.

"You would be working in the morning with Sam Wood on one set," de Havilland recalled, "and in the afternoon with Victor on another set. I don't think that ever happened before."

She agreed that Gable was probably responsible for Cukor's firing.

"I think that Clark was very upset early in shooting by the bazaar scene in which Melanie gives a passionate speech about the South," she said. "That, I think, unnerved him, because he didn't know what he was doing in the scene. It could be that Clark thought that George was throwing the picture to the two actresses. I thought I did the scene very well. But in fact it was unnecessary, and it was cut."

Fleming was more to Gable's liking; they had worked together at M-G-M and were hunting buddies. But Leigh and de Havilland didn't totally abandon Cukor: they went to his home at night for surreptitious coaching.

De Havilland won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Gone With the Wind" and a Best Actress nomination for 1941's Hold Back the Dawn — both loanouts. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. was still casting her in Westerns and romantic comedies.

De Havilland won her revenge in 1944. She'd been suspended for refusing scripts, and the studio had added the time off to the length of her contract. She sued and won a decision that contracts could not extend beyond seven calendar years. For that she earned the undying gratitude of her fellow actors.

She used her new independence wisely, collecting Best Actress Oscars for 1946's To Each His Own and 1949's The Heiress. She also was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for 1948's The Snake Pit.

Then, in 1953, she abruptly left Hollywood to live in Paris.

"You knew that the whole (Hollywood) era of which you had been a part was coming to an end," she explained. "Whatever replaced it would not resemble it. A pall hung over this city. I had to rethink my whole life in a place that was coming to an end."

Another factor was involved. De Havilland had divorced author Marcus Goodrich and had won custody of their son, Benjamin. Yet she feared Goodrich might sue for partial custody.

An invitation to the Cannes Film Festival proved serendipitous. She met a charming Frenchman, Pierre Galante, editor of Paris Match magazine.

"I found France a very refreshing experience," she said. "The French were just recovering from the war and the occupation, which was humiliating for them. The embers of their civilization were just beginning to produce little flickers of flame."

She and Galante married and had a daughter, Gisele, who accompanied her mother to this year's Academy Awards celebration.

De Havilland appeared in films only occasionally after settling in France, including the TV movies The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana, Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna and The Woman He Loved.

She stopped acting in the late 1980s and for a decade provided care during the long and painful illnesses of her son and former husband. Benjamin, who had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease at 19, died at 42 in 1991. Galante, whom she divorced in 1979, died of lung cancer in 1998.

De Havilland has no plans to leave Paris, where she recently redecorated her three-story house near the Bois de Bologne.

"I know this is not a popular thing to say at this moment, but I love living among the French," she said, referring to France's refusal to support the U.S.-led war on Iraq. "They are very independent, intelligent, well-educated and creative. They are a people full of feeling, which they express. They're a vivacious people. Well, they're Celts, you see."

Olivia de Havilland at the Oscars March 24, 1950.
Olivia de Havilland at the Oscars March 24, 1950

Olivia de Havilland in Los Angeles - November 15, 2004
Olivia de Havilland in Los Angeles - November 15, 2004

Gone with the Wind Survivor Tells Story

November 18, 2004

The actors who played these iconic characters from Gone with the Wind have all long gone.

But the stories behind the making of the 1939 Civil War epic remain eternal: Hattie McDaniel's surprise first Oscar victory for a black actress; Clark Gable's fear of crying on camera; three directors chewed up by the film, and the beloved producer — David O. Selznick — who risked his health to hold things together by fueling his marathon workdays with the stimulant Benzedrine.

Sixty-five years later, the lone survivor from the main cast is Olivia de Havilland, who played the doomed Southern belle Melanie.

"Isn't that strange?" de Havilland said, recalling the untimely deaths of her co-stars Vivien Leigh, Gable, Leslie Howard, McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen. "And Melanie was the only principal character who died. Look at her now ..."

Still elegant, healthy and sharp-witted, the 88-year-old de Havilland recently traveled from her home in Paris to Los Angeles to tour the studio lots of her youth, visit old friends and recall her experiences in Hollywood's most famous version of the Old South.

Last week a new four-disc DVD collection was released to commemorate Gone with the Wind, which still comes out far ahead of Star Wars as the most popular film of all time when ticket prices are adjusted for inflation.

The Associated Press: Scarlett is so brash, and Melanie is so gentle. The movie shows a kind of feminism emerging in Scarlett. Were you comfortable playing the less aggressive character?

De Havilland: I loved her. I loved everything she stood for. In those days the particular qualities that made her so admirable, and she's a deeply feminine person, were endangered and they are in a perpetual state of danger.

AP: Three directors worked on this movie — starting with George Cukor (who quit after clashing with Selznick) then Victor Fleming (The Wizard of Oz filmmaker who was ultimately given sole credit) and finally Sam Wood (who finished Goodbye, Mr. Chips and joined up to help after Fleming fell ill.) Did this constant changing worry the cast?

De Havilland: When George was no longer with us, that was a great shock for Vivien and for me. We had set our characters through working with him and wanted to be able to maintain those characters and develop them. It was a terrible loss for both of us. Vivien did not get along as well with Victor as I did, but nonetheless she was a pro so everything proceeded.

AP: Selznick seems like the constant force. Did he keep morale high?

De Havilland: It was David's unifying influence that made it possible for us to shoot. You would shoot a scene in the morning, say, with Victor Fleming and then you would change your costume and go to another stage and shoot another scene that afternoon with Sam Wood. For actors, that is agony. But we did it because David made us believe that we could. ... Of course he died rather young (of heart failure at 63 in 1965), and in order to work he had to take Benzedrine (an amphetamine used to counter depression or fatigue) and that was hard on him. But he drove himself.

AP: Gable's famous line, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," caused an uproar over decency at the time. How do you feel about the barriers it broke down?

De Havilland: Well, it was the thin edge of the wedge, let's face it. What we're hearing today which I think is really quite unnecessary and truly coarse, we're hearing because of that line. He started something. But it had to be. It belonged in the film.

AP: The legend is you made Gable cry. He didn't want to shed tears for the scene after Scarlett has a miscarriage, but you talked him into it. True?

De Havilland: That's true. He didn't want to. He thought it was unmanly, you see. That was the training of men in those days, and it's such a pity that they had to suppress those feelings. ... Oh, he would not do it. He would not! Victor tried everything with him. He tried to attack him on a professional level. We had done it without him weeping several times and then we had one last try. I said, "You can do it, I know you can do it and you will be wonderful ..." Well, by heaven, just before the cameras rolled, you could see the tears come up in his eyes and he played the scene unforgettably well. He put his whole heart into it.

AP: Although you considered yourself one of the leads, you were nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. When McDaniel won that award, becoming the first black performer to claim an Oscar, was that a shock?

De Havilland: I was with Vivien, David (and others) and were just having a drink together before the limousines were going to take us from David's house to the Academy Awards at the Ambassador Hotel. The phone rang and David said, "Yes, yes ... Scarlett, yeah ... Best Picture, hmm ... Fleming, yes ..." and he went down the whole list of awards and then said, "Hattie ..." And my name wasn't mentioned. Of course, he got advance news of who had won. He had some kind of spy.

AP: Then came the ceremony ...

De Havilland: I decided of course there was no God. (Laughs) Well, I was only 22! At the table, I was able to keep my composure until it was all over and then one tear started down my cheek. (The producer's wife) Irene Selznick saw that and said "Come with me!" and we went into the kitchen and then I really began to cry.

AP: Did McDaniel know in advance?

De Havilland: She didn't know. She was already at the awards. She was seated with her black escort and David made sure she was properly seated and he wasn't satisfied at first as to where she was seated. He rearranged things so it was more appropriate, from his point of view.

AP: She was in the back, and he moved her closer?

De Havilland: He arranged a table for two in a very good position for her and her escort and they were perfectly comfortable. In those days, it was still a delicate situation.

AP: Her win was historic. Did your feelings eventually change about losing to her?

De Havilland: Two weeks later, still brooding about the fact that there was no God, I woke up one morning and thought, "That's absolutely wonderful that Hattie got the award!" Hattie deserved it and she got it. ... I thought I'd much rather live in a world where a black actress who gave a marvelous performance got the award instead of me. I'd rather live in that kind of world.

Olivia de Havilland in Los Angeles - November 15, 2004
Olivia de Havilland in Los Angeles - November 15, 2004


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