Olivia de Havilland, classic star of Hollywood and two-time winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress, died peacefully in her sleep at her home in Paris, France, on Saturday. She was 104.
De Havilland was a French-British-American actress. The major works of her cinematic career spanned from 1935 to 1988. She appeared in 49 feature films, and was one of the leading actresses of her time. Her younger sister was actress Joan Fontaine. De Havilland’s career spanned more than 50 years and she was the last surviving actor from Gone with the Wind (1939). The film earned her one of her five Oscar nominations. While De Havilland won two best actress Oscars – for her roles in 1946’s To Each His Own and 1949’s The Heiress – she remains best remembered for her performance as stoical Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in the 1939 classic Gone With the Wind. It was indeed her most famous role.
Her sister Joan was born in 1917. Both girls suffered from bronchial problems and her mother moved the family to California in 1919 in search of a more agreeable climate. She also had a tempestuous relationship with her sister, fellow Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine. Her relationship with her sister, the actress Joan Fontaine, was a constant source of speculation in the gossip columns.
Subsequently her career flourished. She won an Oscar in 1946 for her role in To Each His Own, the same year in which she married a naval veteran named Marcus Goodrich. She went on to major dramatic roles in The Snake Pit in 1948 and in The Heiress a year later, for which she won a second Oscar.
In the 1950s she moved to France with her second husband, Frenchman Pierre Galante, the editor of Paris Match, and devoted most of her time to a growing family.
She famously turned down the role of Blanche DuBois in the 1951 adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire. Instead the part went to Vivien Leigh, who won an Oscar.
There was a Golden Globe nomination for her role in an adaptation of My Cousin Rachel opposite Richard Burton and she won much praise for Lady in a Cage, a 1964 film in which she played a crippled widow trapped in a lift by intruders.
She continued to act sporadically until the late 1980s, winning a Golden Globe in 1986 for Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna.
In 2008, at the age of 92, de Havilland received the US National Medal of Arts from George W Bush. Two years later she was awarded the Knight Legion of Honour from French President Nicolas Sarkozy. She had been a French resident for more than 50 years.
Retirement and Remembrance
In retirement, de Havilland remained active in the film community. In 1998, she traveled to New York to help promote a special showing of Gone with the Wind. In 2003, she appeared as a presenter at the 75th Academy Awards, earning a six-and-a-half-minute standing ovation upon her entrance. In 2004, Turner Classic Movies produced a retrospective piece called Melanie Remembers in which she was interviewed for the 65th anniversary of the original release of Gone with the Wind. In June 2006, she made appearances at tributes commemorating her 90th birthday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In June 2017, two weeks before her 101st birthday, de Havilland was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2017 Birthday Honours for services to drama by Queen Elizabeth II. She is the oldest woman ever to receive the honor. In a statement, she called it “the most gratifying of birthday presents”. She did not travel to the investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace and received her honor from the hands of the British Ambassador to France at her Paris apartment in March 2018, four months before her 102nd birthday. Her daughter Gisèle was by her side.
Television appearances and Legal cases
She continued to work in film supporting roles throughout the 1970s, then made her mark in television, winning a Golden Globe for her role in the TV movie Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna.
In a final legal battle, de Havilland fought a two-year action over her depiction in FX’s series Feud: Bette & Joan. She petitioned the Supreme Court for a hearing, but was denied the opportunity to present her case. de Havilland declared in her initial June 30, 2017 lawsuit that the “bitch”-spouting portrayal of her by Catherine Zeta-Jones in Feud damaged her “professional reputation for integrity, honesty, generosity, self-sacrifice and dignity.
A star gone, but alive in the hearts forever. Young, middle aged and old lover her alike. She will be missed and loved forever.
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