The beautiful, elegant and classy Classic Hollywood-era icon and leading lady Olivia de Havilland will turn 100-years-old on Friday, July 1. Most famous for “Gone with the Wind,” the two-time Academy Award-winning actress proves what longevity her family enjoys, and still sharp-minded, very healthy and happily living in Paris.
In addition to being one of Bette Davis’s best friends from their Warner Bros. days, Olivia is the reason women like Sandra Bullock can make $70M for “Gravity.” She also was responsible for the De Havilland Law which in 1944 broke the stranglehold that studios had on contract players in the State of California.
Miss De Havilland, who began making pictures in 1935, went on to a prolific collaboration with Errol Flynn and along with “Gone With The Wind,” for which she received her first Oscar nomination, she later earned statues for To Each His Own and The Heiress with another nom for The Snake Pit. She left Hollywood in the ’50s just as television was beginning to impact the movies, and moved to Paris with her French husband.
De Havilland was born in 1916 to British parents in Tokyo and moved to California at a young age. A stage turn as Puck in the Saratoga Community Theater production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream led to her being cast in the Warner Bros 1935 film version with de Havilland playing Hermia, under a multi-year contract with WB. That same year, the actress began an onscreen pairing with Flynn in Michael Curtiz’s Captain Blood. The team-up of the two would result in a series of films including They Died With Their Boots On, The Adventures Of Robin Hood and The Charge Of The Light Brigade.
In 1939, de Havilland played Scarlett O’Hara’s sister-in-law Melanie in Gone With The Wind. But it was not easy for her to secure the MGM picture while she was under contract at WB. Jack Warner was considered Satan to most Warner players, and perhaps the only person who hated him more than Olivia was Paul Newman, who arrived at the studio much later than Olivia did, but resented him and Paul told me many times, “Jack Warner was a tyrant.”
Later, she would take Warner Bros to court, which resulted in a landmark decision that reduced the power of the studios and gave artists greater freedom. The studios at the time relied on exclusive personal services contracts being suspended when an artist was not working which meant that actual work would be spread over a much longer calendar period than the contractual seven years. De Havilland filed a lawsuit in 1943 against Warner Bros which had renewed her 1935 contract six times since then and prevented her from working elsewhere. The California Court of Appeal for the Second District ruled in her favor, taking the common sense view that seven years from the commencement of service meant seven calendar years. In 1944, she was free to seek work elsewhere.
Her equally as famous sister Joan Fontaine died in 2013.