TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Twenty-Three — Olivia de Havilland

Dame Olivia de Havilland

Olivia de Havilland once said, “I would prefer to live forever in perfect health, but if I must at some time leave this life, I would like to do so ensconced on a chaise lounge, perfumed, wearing a velvet robe and pearl earrings, with a flute of champagne beside me and having just discovered the answer to the last problem in a British cryptic crossword.”

Miss de Havilland died July 26, 2020, at the age of 104. I like to think that her life ended just as she’d imagined.


Olivia Mary de Havilland was born in Tokyo on July 1, 1916, the oldest of two girls (her younger sister is Joan Fontaine). Her father, Walter Augustus, was an English professor-turned-patent attorney, and her mother, Lillian, had studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and performed as a concert singer. After her marriage, she taught dramatic art, music, and elocution.

As Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Eventually, Olivia’s parents split up (her father later remarried – to the family’s Japanese housekeeper, and her mother remarried a storekeeper named George Fontaine) and Lillian and her daughters wound up in Saratoga, a village about 50 miles from San Francisco. In high school, Olivia appeared in class plays and was the secretary of the school club, using acting to rid herself of what she considered to be an extreme case of shyness. After her graduation in 1934, she was offered the role of Puck in the Saratoga Community production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As fate would have it, Austrian director Max Reinhardt brought his production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the Hollywood Bowl and Olivia was recommended for the role of Hermia. When the play was made into a feature film in 1935, Olivia was part of the cast, making her big screen debut.


  • Olivia appeared in a total of nine films with Errol Flynn, including Captain Blood (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and Dodge City (1939).

    Olivia appeared in nine films with Errol Flynn.

  • Olivia and her sister, Joan, are the only siblings in history to have won an Oscar in a lead acting category.
  • Olivia moved to France in 1956 when she married Paris Match editor and journalist Pierre Galante. She lived there for the rest of her life.
  • Two weeks before her 101st birthday, Olivia was appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire. She was the oldest recipient ever to receive the honor and called it “the most gratifying of birthday presents.”
  • In 1943, de Havilland filed a lawsuit against her studio, Warner Bros., which had typecast her in film roles as an ingénue. She strongly preferred different roles, but Warner Bros. would not lend her to other studios. De Havilland won the suit, thereby reducing the power of the studios. The case is known as The De Havilland Law.


Run, don’t walk, to see Gone With the Wind.

What a quandary!! Gone With the Wind (1939) or The Heiress (1949)?? I love them both but, ultimately, I simply had to go with Gone With the Wind, which I’ve long considered to be my favorite film. De Havilland plays Melanie Wilkes, whose character exudes strength, kindness and, loyalty. For me, she is the heart and soul of this epic film.

I’ve seen GWTW countless times, but I plan on watching it again to celebrate Olivia de Havilland on her special Summer Under the Stars Day. I hope you’ll join me.

And I’ll see you on Day 24 of Summer Under the Stars!

~ by shadowsandsatin on August 23, 2020.

5 Responses to “TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Twenty-Three — Olivia de Havilland”

  1. Indeed. We may be joining you. It will be my daughter’s first viewing (I know!), but movies come to us when they should and I am thinking the time is now.

    I have always admired how Olivia wanted to play Melanie when so many actresses went after Scarlett. “Bad guys” are fun, but she saw the challenge in bringing those good qualities to the story.

    • How exciting for your daughter! I envy her having this great experience ahead!

      I totally agree with you about Olivia going after the role of Melanie. And she certainly made her a most memorable character.

  2. Thanks for the lovely write-up of a lovely lady. However, one correction: Saratoga is over 40 miles away from San Francisco. (It’s much closer to San Jose – about 8.5 miles.) Thanks.

  3. […] Day 23: Olivia de Havilland […]

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