Olivia de Havilland, one of Hollywood’s genuine legends, passed away in 2020.
At the age of 104, the star who won two Oscars for her roles in timeless films such as Gone with the Wind and The Adventures of Robin Hood passed away.
Olivia was the epitome of a lady, characterized by her grace, poise, beauty, strength, intelligence, and wit, which remain unrivaled.
In the 1930s, De Havilland rose to fame as one of Hollywood’s top ingénues, delivering memorable performances in swashbuckling adventure films alongside Errol Flynn, including Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Towards the end of the decade, she landed her most renowned role as Melanie Wilkes in the timeless classic, Gone with the Wind. The movie, often regarded as one of the greatest films in Hollywood history, still holds the record for the highest-grossing film ever made when adjusted for inflation.
Playing the role of Scarlett O’Hara’s kindhearted confidant and best friend, de Havilland delivered a classic performance, which earned her the first Oscar nomination of her career. Her portrayal provided the heart of the film.
However, De Havilland’s most significant impact on Hollywood occurred off-screen when she took legal action against Warner Bros. in 1943 over the restrictive terms of her exclusive contract, seeking the liberty to pursue roles with other studios.
Her victory in the lawsuit dealt a significant blow to the power exerted by the studio system over actors and is still recognized as “The de Havilland Law” today.
As a result, De Havilland was able to break free from her ingenue typecasting at Warner Bros and explore more challenging dramatic roles, leading to critical acclaim. She won two Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performances in To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949) and received other notable accolades.
De Havilland’s remarkable achievements were recognized through various honors, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 and the National Medal of Arts in 2008. Despite making her last screen appearance in 1988, she remained a symbol of classic Hollywood as one of its last surviving members.
Considering her difficult childhood, De Havilland must have been immensely proud of her accomplishments. Born in Tokyo in 1916 to British parents, Lillian (nee Ruse), an actor, and Walter de Havilland, a patent lawyer, her early years were marked by tragedy and upheaval.
Olivia had a younger sister, Joan Fontaine, who was also an actress and born in 1917. Their relationship and rumored rivalry were often reported in gossip columns, according to BBC.
Both sisters suffered from bronchial problems, prompting their mother to relocate the family to California in 1919 in search of a more favorable climate. A doctor suggested that the Saratoga area, situated in the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains, would be beneficial for the girls’ health.
Tragically, Lillian and Walter de Havilland’s marriage was strained, and Walter was infamous for his infidelity, ultimately abandoning the family. Just 11 days after their move to California, he left for Tokyo and later married his Japanese housekeeper.
Fight with stepfather
Following their father’s abandonment, Olivia de Havilland, her sister Joan, and their mother were raised by their stepfather. Lillian was known for being very strict, setting high expectations for her daughters. Both Olivia and Joan were required to seek permission before leaving the house.
As a teenager, Olivia de Havilland developed a keen interest in amateur theater and began performing in school plays, but this sparked conflict within her family.
Despite her passion for acting, her stepfather George Milan Fontaine vehemently opposed her pursuit of a career in entertainment. He even threatened to kick her out of the house if she accepted the lead role in the high school production of “Pride and Prejudice.”
Despite the ultimatum, Olivia’s love for drama prevailed. Her stepfather, known for his strict discipline, warned her that leaving the house would mean leaving for good. However, the determined 17-year-old chose to pursue her dreams and left home to pursue her acting career.
After leaving home, Olivia de Havilland stayed with friends until earning a scholarship to Mills College, and went on to become a Hollywood icon.
Inside her passing
The departure of Olivia has created a significant void in the air, akin to the disappearance of oxygen from the surroundings. Her publicist stated that she passed away at her home in Paris on July 26, 2020, due to natural causes, at the age of 104.
Soon after her demise, Hollywood began to pay homage to the iconic figure and her remarkable contributions to the industry.
Jane Seymour reminisced about collaborating with her on a movie and described her as “larger than life” and “a brilliant actor.”
The legendary Olivia De Havilland passed away yesterday. She was 104. Olivia made a powerful impact in my life and I had the pleasure to spend some time with her in Paris. I thanked her for her bravery and shared how her choices affected me and my brother (1/6) pic.twitter.com/R9RXsrWHS9— JARED LETO (@JaredLeto) July 26, 2020
An unexpected tribute came from actor Jared Leto, who shared a personal encounter with de Havilland in Paris, where they discussed how her legal triumph influenced his and his brother’s careers. Leto expressed gratitude for her courage and the impact of her choices on their lives in a Twitter post.
Furthermore, de Havilland’s admirers paid their respects by placing tributes on her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.