Livvie Trivia: Happy Birthday, Olivia de Havilland!
One of our last living treasures from the Golden Age of Hollywood, Miss Olivia “Livvie” de Havilland, was born in Tokyo, Japan, on July 1, 1916. The older sister of actress Joan Fontaine, de Havilland shared her acting talents with the world over a span of six decades. Her best-known film is undoubtedly Gone With the Wind (1939), and she also starred in such gems as The Strawberry Blonde (1941), In This Our Life (1942), To Each His Own (1946), and one of my favorite films, The Heiress (1949). She also managed to make her mark in realm of film noir with a dual role as twins in The Dark Mirror (1946) – if you haven’t seen it, check it out!
To honor the occasion of Miss de Havilland’s birth, join me in raising a glass to this great lady and enjoy some fun Livvie Trivia!
Olivia deHavilland’s father, Walter Augustus, was a British patent attorney, and her mother, Lillian, was a former stage actress who was educated at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
Sisters Olivia and Joan were estranged for many years – their feud became a thing of legend. Reportedly, when she was nine years old, de Havilland made a will in which she stated, “I bequeath all my beauty to my younger sister Joan, since she has none.” And Fontaine once said, “I married first, won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she’ll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it!” (Sadly, Fontaine passed away on December 15, 2013. de Havilland released a statement saying that she was “shocked and saddened” by her sister’s death.)
de Havilland’s middle name is Mary.
In 1919, de Havilland’s mother persuaded her husband to take the family back to England. The family stopped in California to treat a bronchial condition that was plaguing Olivia. Joan later developed pneumonia, and Lillian decided to remain in California, settling in a small town about 50 miles south of San Francisco. Walter de Havilland – who was reportedly a bit of a womanizer – left the family and returned to his Japanese housekeeper. Olivia’s parents divorced in 1925 (and the housekeeper became Walter’s second wife).
In high school, de Havilland was a member of the drama club and made her amateur theater debut in in 1933 Saratoga Community Players production of Alice in Wonderland. In summer 1934, director Max Reinhardt came to California to helm a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Hollywood Bowl. Olivia was recommended to him by an assistant who’d seen her perform in the same production for the Saratoga Players. Olivia was give the understudy role of Hermia, and when the actress playing the role left the production, Olivia stepped in. When Reinhardt received word that he was to direct the Warner Bros’ film of Midsummer Night’s Dream, he persuaded Olivia to reprise her role. Shortly afterward, deHavilland signed a seven-year contract with Warners.
de Havilland stands a wee 5 feet 3 inches tall. (At least, that’s wee to me.)
In 1935, deHavilland was teamed with Errol Flynn in the action-adventure yarn Captain Blood. The two went on to appear in a total of eight films together, including The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Dodge City (1939), and They Died With Their Boots On (1941). In 2009, deHavilland admitted: “We did fall in love, and I believe that this is evident in the screen chemistry between us. But his circumstances at the time prevented the relationship going further.” (From 1935 to 1942, Flynn was married to actress Lili Damita and in 1943, he married Nora Eddington, from whom he was divorced in 1949).
On November 28, 1941, de Havilland became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
In 1946, deHavilland married novelist Marcus Goodrich; the two had a son, Benjamin Briggs Goodrich. The couple divorced in 1953. (Benjamin died of Hodgkins disease in 1991, just weeks before the death of his father.) Two years later, deHavilland married Pierre Galante, editor of Paris Match, a French weekly magazine. She and Galante have a daughter, Gisele, who works as a journalist in France. deHavilland and Galante divorced in 1979, but they remained close friend, and when he became ill with cancer, deHavilland nursed him until his death in 1998.
deHavilland received her first nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Melanie Wilkes in Gone With the Wind. She lost to her GWTW co-star, Hattie McDaniel. She was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for Hold Back the Dawn (1941). This time, she lost to her sister, Joan, for her role in Suspicion (1941). She finally won the Oscar for To Each His Own (1946), was nominated again for The Snake Pit (1948) (but lost to Jane Wyman for Johnny Belinda. She was nominated the following year for The Heiress – and won.
deHavilland is the last surviving major star of Gone With the Wind. (In fact, the only other cast member still living is Mickey Kuhn, who played Melanie’s son, Beau.)
During her years under contract to Warner Bros., de Havilland was frequently dissatisfied with the roles that she was assigned, and was looking forward to the end of her term with the studio in 1943. However, Warner Bros. informed her that six months had been added to her contract because of time that she had been suspended by the studio. In response, de Havilland sued the studio – the case reached the California Supreme Court which, in 1945, upheld a lower court ruling in favor of the actress, limiting the length of a contract to no more than seven years. The decision is known as “The de Havilland rule.”
After the court decision, Warner Bros. sent a letter to other studios in town that resulted in a “virtual blacklisting” of de Havilland, and she did not work in a film studio for the next two years.
Some of her memorable films later in her career include Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1965), in which she co-starred with her friend, Bette Davis (1965); Lady in a Cage (1964), with James Caan and Jeff Corey; Airport ’77 (1977); a star-studded production whose cast included James Stewart, Jack Lemmon, and Lee Grant; and The Swarm (1978), directed by the “Master of Disaster,” Irwin Allen.
The actress moved to Paris, France, more than 50 years ago, and lives there still.
In a rare act of reconciliation, Olivia and her sister Joan Fontaine celebrated Christmas 1962 together along with their then-husbands and children.
For one of her final performances, in the 1986 television movie Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna, de Havilland won a Golden Globe award.
Her last role was in 1988, in The Woman He Loved, a television movie about the love affair between King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. The cast also included Julie Harris, Tom Wilkinson, Jane Seymour, and Phyllis Calvert.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented a special tribute to de Havilland in 2006. In 1998, President George W. Bush awarded her with the National Medal of Arts, and two years later she was given the Legion of Honor award from French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
I know that you join me in wishing the happiest of birthdays to this grand lady of the screen, and extending our most sincere hopes for her good health, happiness, prosperity, and peace.