Publicity photo of actor Olivia de Havilland in 1930s.
Havilland/Actor P/
Historical
Publicity photo of actor Olivia de Havilland in 1930s. Havilland/Actor P/ Historical

Hollywood legend de Havilland dies at 104

Olivia de Havilland, the last great star of the 1930s, has died at the age of 104.

The two-time Academy Award-winner died of natural causes on Sunday (local time) at her home in Paris where she had lived for more than 60 years, her publicist announced.

De Havilland came up during Hollywood's Golden Age, the period spanning the end of silent films to the late 1950s.

She was the last surviving star of Gone With the Wind, the 1939 classic which recently came under scrutiny for its depiction of slavery in the pre-abolition South. De Havilland was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the movie.

Her death comes just months after that of another Hollywood supra-centenarian, Kirk Douglas, who died aged 103 in February.

Although she was a multiple Oscar winner and appeared in dozens of films, she is most fondly remembered for playing good-girl Melanie Hamilton opposite Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara in the 1939 epic Gone With The Wind.

 

Olivia de Havilland as Melanie with Leslie Howard in Gone With The Wind. Picture: Supplied
Olivia de Havilland as Melanie with Leslie Howard in Gone With The Wind. Picture: Supplied

As the decent, self-effacing Melanie, de Havilland was perfect.

"Playing good girls in the '30s was difficult when the fad was to play bad girls," she once said. "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."

She also formed a formidable on screen partnership (along with a rumoured off-screen relationship) with Errol Flynn, starring alongside the dashing Australian in eight films, including the classics, Captain Blood (1935), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) and as Maid Marian to the Tasmanian's Robin Hood in The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938.

Her two best actress Oscars were for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949).

She broke near Garbo-esque seclusion from France, her home since 1955, to file a lawsuit over her portrayal by Catherine Zeta-Jones in the 2017 Emmy-nominated television drama Feud, which chronicled the contentious relationship between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

 

The actress with Errol Flynn in the 1935 film Captain Blood. Picture: Supplied
The actress with Errol Flynn in the 1935 film Captain Blood. Picture: Supplied

 

The steely actress famously gave her name to a landmark legal ruling - the de Havilland law - after she took Warner Brothers to court in 1943 over a contract dispute and won, forever loosening the studios' grip on their actors and actresses.

 

Olivia de Havilland in the 1930s.
Olivia de Havilland in the 1930s.

 

De Havilland was equally well known for the drama in her personal life, specifically her nearly lifelong feud with sister Joan Fontaine, who died in 2013.

As toddlers (Olivia was older by 15 months) the girls moved with their British-born mother from Tokyo, where they were born, to California.

 

 

The move was prompted by the discovery that their father (who was also British) was having an affair with the maid.

Competitive from childhood, Fontane claimed in her autobiography that their nutual animosity stemmed from wrestling matches, claiming that de Havilland had broken her collarbone.

 

Olivia de Havilland unveils a plaque commemorating the illustrious career of Vivien Leigh at the Elstree Film Studios in north London.
Olivia de Havilland unveils a plaque commemorating the illustrious career of Vivien Leigh at the Elstree Film Studios in north London.

 

In 2016, de Havilland gave a rare interview to the Associated Press in which she disclosed her true feelings about her sister.

De Havilland said the "legend of a feud" with her sister was first created by an article entitled "Sister Act" in Life magazine following the 1942 Oscars, where both sisters were nominated for an Academy Award. Fontaine, who was then the lesser known sister, won, for Suspicion while de Havilland had been nominated for Hold Back the Dawn.

 

The actress, with co-star Montgomery Clift, won an Oscar for her role in The Heiress.
The actress, with co-star Montgomery Clift, won an Oscar for her role in The Heiress.

 

"'Dragon Lady', as I eventually decided to call her, was a brilliant, multitalented person, but with an astigmatism in her perception of people and events, which often caused her to react in an unfair and even injurious way," de Havilland told The Associated Press in 2016.

"A feud implies continuing hostile conduct between two parties. I cannot think of a single instance wherein I initiated hostile behaviour," she said.

"But I can think of many occasions where my reaction to deliberately inconsiderate behaviour was defensive," she added.

De Havilland moved to France in 1955 after marrying her second husband, Pierre Galante, then the editor of Paris Match. She continued to work in movies while raising two children: a daughter, Gisele, her child with Galante; and a son, Benjamin, from her first marriage, to the novelist and screenwriter Marcus Goodrich.

She filed her suit after Feud - which was centred on the long-running rivalry bewteeen Bette Davis and Joan Crawford - aired to widespread critical acclaim, and a day before she turned 101. It was also just a few weeks after the Queen bestowed upon de Havilland the title of dame for her services to drama.

Her case centred largely on a scene in which her character calls her sister Joan Fontaine a "b***h," when in reality she had called her a "dragon lady." De Havilland also objected to a joke her character tells about Frank Sinatra's heavy drinking.

The California appeals court threw out the lawsuit, ruling that the legendary actress had no right to control how the show's creators depicted her.

De Havilland turned 104 on July 1, propmpting friend Mia Farrow to post a photo of the star riding a bike.

"Happy Birthday Olivia de Havilland who turns 104 today- and apparently is still riding her bike," Farrow wrote, to which actress Rosanna Arquette responded, "Amazing! Living without bitterness."

 

- with staff writers

 

Originally published as Hollywood legend de Havilland dies at 104

De Havilland referred to her sister Joan Fontaine as “Dragon Lady”.
De Havilland referred to her sister Joan Fontaine as “Dragon Lady”.

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