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Happy 100th Birthday, Olivia de Havilland!

Olivia Mary de Havilland was born on July 1, 1916 in Tokyo, Japan. Her mother, Lilian Augusta Ruse, had been an accomplished student of music and voice who had won a scholarship to Reading Musical College in England at the age of thirteen. In the summer of 1907, Lilian was offered a position in Tokyo as a teacher of choral singing. While attending a tea party at the British embassy, she met Walter Augustus de Havilland, a "suave Englishman" who ran a successful firm of patent attorneys in Tokyo. Following a whirlwind courtship, Walter proposed to Lilian, but she was not interested in marriage. Instead, she decided to return to England in December 1911 to study acting at Sir Beerbohm Tree's Academy, now known as the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. When World War I broke out in 1914, Walter went back to England to enlist with the British Army. Despite being an accomplished marksman, Walter was rejected for military service due to his advanced age (he was 42 at the time). At the same time, he looked up Lilian and renewed his marriage proposal. She tossed a crown to help her make her decision and they married within weeks. 

Olivia de Havilland at age one
Walter and Lilian's relationship grew strained after the birth of Olivia and her sister Joan the following year. In early 1919, Lilian persuaded her husband to take the family back to England to a climate better suited for their ailing daughters. They sailed abroad the SS Siberia Maru to San Francisco, where they stopped to treat Olivia's tonsillitis. When Joan developed pneumonia, Lilian decided to remained with her daughters in California, while Walter returned to Japan. For several months, she and the girls lived at the Vendome Hotel in the Santa Clara Valley. At the hotel's annual New Year's Eve Ball, Lilian met George M. Fontaine, a successful businessman who was part owner and general manager of a renowned department store in San Jose. He was immediately smitten with Lilian and the two soon began a romance. 

When Olivia was four, the family moved to Saratoga, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of San Francisco, in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. In October 1924, Lilian, who had decided by then to take up permanent residence in California, left her daughters in the care of a nurse and embarked for Tokyo to file suit for divorce from Walter. The divorced was granted in February 1925, allowing Lilian to marry George two months later. Olivia and Joan had a hard time dealing with their stepfather's rigid parenting style. He imposed a strict 8:15 curfew and forbade the girls from participating in extra-curricular activities. Headstrong Olivia, however, defied his rules and secretly joined the hockey club and the debate team, both of which she excelled at. In addition, she was a member of the Student Council at Los Gatos Union High School, served as class president in her freshman year and as secretary of the student body in her sophomore year. 

Olivia in Alice in Wonderland
The well-versed Lilian taught her daughters diction and voice control at an early age, as well as exposing them to great works of literature. As such, Olivia developed an interest in the arts and joined the school's drama club, appearing in such plays as The Merchant of Venice and Hansel and Gretel. In 1933, at the age of 17, she played the lead in a local theatre production of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, a part Joan had envisioned for herself. This, along with Joan's resentment of what she perceived as their mother's favoritism for Olivia, was a catalyst for the sisters' reputed "feud." 

Meanwhile, Olivia was offered the lead role of Elizabeth Bennett in a school fund-raising production of Jane Austen's iconic novel Pride and Prejudice. She was thrilled to get such an iconic part, but her elation soon faded when her stepfather issued her an ultimatum: either she withdraw from the play or permanently leave the house. Not wanting to let down her fellow castmates or the prospective audience, Olivia left home forever, initially moving in with friends and later to a rented room in the residence of a former nurse. She did not make her peace with Fontaine for many years afterward — and even then she did so only to please her mother. 

After graduating among the top of her class in 1934, Olivia won a scholarship to Mills College in Oakland to pursue her chosen career as an English teacher. At the same time, she was cast as Puck in the Saratoga Community Players production of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Austrian producer-director Max Reinhardt happened to attend one of the performances and Olivia took the opportunity to make the acquaintance of one of his assistants.When she heard that Reinhardt was going to stage A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Hollywood Bowl that summer, she asked the maestro's assistant permission to watch rehearsals. Instead, she was told by another of Reinhardt's assistants that she could be the second understudy to Gloria Stuart, who had been cast as Hermia. A week before opening night, both Stuart and the first understudy, Jean Rouverol, withdrew from the production, leaving Olivia to play the part, which she did to great success. 

As Hermia in A Midsummer's Night Dream
During rehearsals, Warner Bros. producer Henry Blanke, who was preparing a film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream to be helmed by Reinhardt and William Dieterle, noticed Olivia and asked the Austrian director to introduce him "to the girl with the ethereal face." By the end of his visit, he offered her the screen role of Hermia, but she turned him down, still determined to become a teacher. Eventually, Olivia was persuaded by Blanke, Reinhardt and Dieterle not only to sign for A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), but also for a five year-contract to go into effect when the film was completed. Although it featured an all-star cast including James Cagney and Dick Powell, A Midsummer Night's Dream "was a studio's worst nightmare — an expensive prestige picture that bombed at the box-office." Nevertheless, the film won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing, receiving additional nominations for Best Picture and Best Assistant Director. 

Following two minor comedies, Alibi Ike (1935) and The Irish in Us (1935), Olivia was paired with dashing Tasmanian newcomer Errol Flynn in Michael Curtiz's swashbuckler Captain Blood (1935). Based on Rafael Sabatini's eponymous novel, the film was one of Warners' biggest moneymakers of the year, garnering four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Key to its success was the on-screen chemistry between Olivia and Flynn, who shared many intimate moments on the set. However, no actual romance ever developed between, despite the fact that they both had feelings for each other. In 1971, she told a London audience, "I had such a crush on him all through Captain Blood, and years later I learned he had a crush on me during The Charge of the Light Brigade. What a shame neither of us let on." She then quipped, "No it isn't, he would have ruined my life." Flynn and Olivia went on to co-star in seven additional films. 

Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn in
The Charge of the Light Brigade
After Captain Blood, Olivia was cast opposite Fredric March the costume drama Anthony Adverse (1936), an adaptation of Hervey Allen's best-seller of the same name. Although the film opened to mixed reviews, it was popular among audiences and won four Academy Awards and three other nominations, including Best Picture. She finished the year back with Flynn in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), a historical adventure based on the famous poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson. The pairing of Olivia and Flynn once again translated into box-office gold. 

The following year, Olivia was given her first top billing in Archie Mayo's Call It a Day (1937), a comedy about the romantic exploits of a middle-class English family within a 24-hour hour period. Next, she appeared opposite Brian Aherne — who would marry her sister in 1939 — in The Great Garrick (1937), a whimsical farce set in 18th-century Paris. Before the year was over, Olivia reunited with Mayo in It's Love I'm After (1937), a well-received screwball comedy co-starrring Leslie Howard and Bette Davis.

Olivia's first Technicolor picture was Gold Is Where You Find It (1938), which told the true story of the battle between gold miners and farmers in Northern California during the 1870s. Thereafter, she appeared with Flynn in their signature film, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), again directed by Curtiz. This Technicolor swashbuckler was a massive critical and commercial success, becoming the sixth highest-grossing picture of the year. It won Oscars for Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing and Best Original Score, receiving an additional nomination for Best Picture. By her own account, Olivia never saw The Adventures of Robin Hood until twenty years after its original release and it proved quite a revelation for her. During a lecture at the National Film Theatre in London in August 1971, she recalled, "I went to see Robin Hood on the Champs-Élysées and I was quite impressed with it. I even wrote Errol a letter saying how much I enjoyed his performance, but I hesitated about mailing it. A few days later, he was dead."

With Errol Flynn in Dodge City
Propelled by the success of The Adventures of Robin Hood, Warner Bros. decided to see if Olivia and Flynn could be as effective in modern dress as they were in period costumes. As such, the studio paired them in the screwball comedy Four's a Crowd (1938), with Rosalind Russell and Patric Knowles. When the film failed at the box-office, however, Warners realized that it was best to keep the duo in period garb. Following Hard to Get (1938) and Wings of the Navy (1939), Olivia and Flynn were transported to the wild west of Dodge City (1939), which became one of biggest moneymakers of the year. Next, they were cast alongside Bette Davis in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), a fictional account of the historical relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. While the film was not as successful as its predecessor, it was still a solid hit, earning five Academy Award nominations.

By the late 1930s, Hollywood was caught up in the hype surrounding the making of Gone with the Wind (1939), a Civil War epic based on Margaret Mitchell's best-selling novel of the same name. Independent producer David O. Selznick purchased the prized screen rights the book and began a highly publicized nationwide campaign to find an actress to play Scarlett O'Hara, the strong-willed heroine of the story. Olivia was probably the only leading lady in Hollywood who had no desire to test for the role. "I knew I was going to have to earn my own living and be self-reliant and independent and self-supporting," she said. "And when I made Gone with the Wind, that exactly what I was. So was Scarlett. Since I was myself leading that life, the role didn't interest me at all." Olivia's sister, now known as the actress Joan Fontaine, was one of the hundreds who tested for Scarlett. Ironically, it was her audition who opened the way for Olivia to play Melanie Hamilton, Scarlett's kind-hearted cousin. When George Cukor — who had been hired to direct the film before Selznick replaced him with Victor Fleming — asked Joan to read for Melanie instead, she declined and said, "If it is a Melanie you are looking for, why don't you try my sister."

In a publicity still for Gone with the Wind
Cukor took Joan's advice and contacted Olivia, who agreed to read for the part first at the director's office and then at Selznick's house. When she finished, Selznick decided that she was Melanie and offered her the role on the spot. Studio boss Jack L. Warner, however, refused to loan her out for the project, fearing that she would be difficult to handle once she had a taste of freedom. Rather than accept Warner's verdict as the final word, Olivia appealed to his wife Ann, who eventually convinced her husband to capitulate on his decision. As part of the deal for Olivia, Warner secured the services of James Stewart from MGM — which was releasing Gone with the Wind — for No Time for Comedy (1940).

Starring Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara and Clark Gable as dashing adventurer Rhett Butler, Gone with the Wind was a spectacular success among audiences and critics alike. In a year widely considered as the most outstanding in Hollywood history, the film garnered ten Academy Awards (eight competitive and two honorary) from a total of thirteen nominations, including a win for the coveted Best Picture statuette. Olivia received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress for what Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called "a gracious, dignified, tender gem of characterization." She lost the award to co-star Hattie McDaniel, whose acclaimed performance as Mammy made her the first African-American actress to win an Oscar. Gone with the Wind eventually became the highest grossing film made up to that point, retaining the record for over 25 years until it was surpassed by Robert Wise's The Sound of Music (1965). When adjusted for monetary inflation, however, it is still the most successful film in box-office history. 

With Jimmy in 1940 (photo by John Swope)
At the request of Irene Mayer Selznick, James Stewart was asked to escort Olivia to the New York premiere of Gone with the Wind on December 19, 1939. Over the next few days, Jimmy took her to the theatre several times and to the 21 Club on West 52nd Street. They continued to see each other back in Los Angeles, where Jimmy provided occasional flying lessons and romance. It was not long before the sighting of the young couple began to stir up speculation among gossip columnists that they were headed for marriage. In May 1940, Motion Picture magazine ran an article claiming that "Livvy and Jimmy are serious, are in love, and will be married." By Olivia's own account, Jimmy did propose to her in 1940, but she graciously turned him down. "He was great fun to be with, a bit like a grown-up Huck Finn," she later recalled. "I think his offer of marriage was just a frivolous thing on his part. Jimmy wasn't ready for a wife. I guess he still had a few more wild oats to sow."

After being loaned out to Samuel Goldwyn Productions to make Raffles (1939) with David Niven, Olivia refused a series of assignments at Warner Bros., including Flight Angels (1940), a comedy about stewardesses. She was consequently put on suspension, reluctantly returning to the studio to appear in opposite Jeffrey Lynn and Eddie Albert in My Love Came Back (1940). Her second film that year, the Western Santa Fe Trail (1940), reunited her with Flynn for the seventh time and was, invariably, a box-office success. Olivia was unable to attend its world premiere in Santa Fe, New Mexico on December 13, having been diagnosed with appendicitis that morning and rushed into surgery. During her long period of convalescence, she rejected several scripts offered to her by Warners, leading to another suspension and increasing her dissatisfaction with the studio.

With Charles Boyer in Hold Back the Dawn
The following year, Olivia appeared in three critically and commercially successful films, beginning with Raoul Walsh's The Strawberry Blonde (1941), a romantic comedy set in the Gay Nineties. Her tense relationship with Jack Warner was once again put to the test when she asked to be loaned to Paramount Pictures to play retiring schoolteacher Emmy Brown in Hold Back the Dawn (1941), a role penned specifically for her by screenwriter Charles Brackett. In exchange for Olivia's services, Paramount had to loan Fred MacMurray to Warners for Dive Bomber (1941). Co-starring Charles Boyer and Paulette Goddard, Hold Back the Dawn received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Olivia, her first in that category. Ironically, she lost the Oscar to her sister Joan, who won for her performance in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941). Olivia's final picture that year — and her last teaming with Flynn — was They Died with Their Boots On (1941), a fictionalized account of the life of General George Armstrong Custer.

Olivia's next assignment was The Male Animal (1942), a well-received comedy in which she played Henry Fonda's wife. She was then cast as Bette Davis' rivaling sister in In This Our Life (1942), a tempestuous drama directed by John Huston. During the making of the film, Olivia ended her relationship with Jimmy and began dating Huston, who was still married at the time — although he was estranged from his wife, Lesley Black. Their romance was "warm and real" and would last for three years. As Olivia said, by the time Huston's divorce became final in 1945 "the strain of the war years, the long separations and misunderstandings had taken their toll, and our relationship, as far as I was concerned, was at an end." Later in life, she remembered that "John was a great love of mine. [...] He was a man I wanted to marry, and knowing him was a powerful experience, one I thought I would never get over. [...] Maybe he was the great love of my life. Yes, he probably was."

With Robert Cummings in Princess O'Rourke
According to Olivia, one of the few truly satisfying roles she played for Warner Bros. was the title character in Norman Krasna's Princess O'Rourke (1943), the story of an European princess who must choose between love and duty after becoming involved a handsome American pilot. Co-starring Robert Cummings, the film opened to solid box-office results and received good reviews from critics. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, for instance, called it "a film which is in the best tradition of American comedy," deeming Olivia "charming as the princess — so modest, yet so eargerly thrilled." At the 16th Academy Awards, Krasna won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Although she was ultimately pleased with Princess O'Rourke, filming proved a challenge for Olivia, who had been suffering from exhaustion and low blood pressure for some months. To make matters worse, Cummings was often available, as he was simultaneously shooting Between Us Girls (1942) at Universal Pictures. This forced Olivia to deliver her lines to a stand-in, a practice she hated. Feeling ill and frustrated with Warner Bros. for insisting on casting her in lightweight roles, she began reporting late for work and leaving the set without permission. Her previously unheard of behavior resulted in her suspension and subsequent "assignment" to David O. Selnick, who in turn loaned her out to RKO for Government Girl (1944), a project she loathed. Back at Warners, Olivia made a cameo appearance in the wartime musical Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943) and starred in Devotion (1946), a highly fictionalized account of the lives of the Brontë sisters.

Olivia on the cover of Photoplay magazine
in September 1943
The completion of Devotion, the last film on her Warners contract, meant that Olivia was finally free from "Jack the warden," as she referred to her boss. The studio, however, informed her that she still had six months left on her contract to make up for the time she had spent on suspension. Through her lawyer, Martin Gang, Olivia discovered a California law that stated that "no employer shall hold an employee to a contract longer than seven year," which she interpreted as calendar years and not accumulated work time. 

At the risk of committing career suicide, she decided to file suit against Warner Bros. in August 1943, asking the Supreme Court for "declaratory relief, an interpretation of the law as it applied to an actor's contract." In December 1944, the court ruled in favor of Olivia, in a landmark judgment that became known as the De Havilland Decision in law books. Jack Warner reacted to her lawsuit by circulating a letter to every other studio in Hollywood requesting that they join forces with him. Consequently, Olivia was blacklisted from working on a film set and remained off-screen for nearly two years. Warners even shelved the release of Devotion.

Olivia kept busy by starring in episodes of Lux Radio Theatre (Warner had failed to enjoin the broadcasting medium his crusade against her) and contributing to the war effort. Since becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States in November 1941, she had actively sought out ways to express her patriotism. In May 1942, she joined the Hollywood Victory Caravan, a three-week train tour of the country that raised money through the sale of war bonds. Later that year, she began attending events at the Hollywood Canteen, a club recently formed by Warner Bros. contract players Bette Davis and John Garfield that offered free food, dancing and entertainment for servicemen, usually on their way overseas. In December 1943, she took part in a USO tour that travelled throughout the United States, Alaska and the battlefronts of the South Pacific, visiting wounded servicemen in army and navy hospitals. During this period, she suffered a bout of viral pneumonia, which required her to spend several days in a barrack hospital in a Pacific island.

Holding her Oscar for To Each His Own
Anxious to return to work, Olivia signed a three-movie deal with Paramount Pictures in early 1945. Her first assignment at the new studio was The Well-Groomed Bride (1946), a poorly-received comedy co-starring Ray Milland. Olivia later admitted that the film was a mistake and that she made it at the insistence of her agent, whom she reportedly sue after it was finished. In the meantime, Warners released the long-delayed Devotion, which was a critical and commercial failure. 

Olivia's second picture at Paramount, To Each His Own (1946), was at last a project that she was truly passionate about. Written by Charles Brackett, the film told the story of an unwed mother who gives up her son for adoption and then spends the rest of her life trying to undo that decision. The role of Jody Norris, which required her to age nearly thirty years over the course of the story, proved a challenge for Olivia, but also enabled her to grow as an actress. At the 19th Academy Awards, she saw her efforts recognized when Ray Milland presented her with the Oscar for Best Actress.

Olivia took on an even greater challenge in her next film, playing good/bad twin sisters Ruth and Terry Collins in The Dark Mirror (1946), an intriguing thriller directed by Robert Siodmak for Universal Pictures. "The Dark Mirror was a film I very much wanted to do because of the two characterizations which it required," she later said. "The technical problems were difficult, but not insurmountable, and though she was a character who to this day appalls and disturbs me, Terry nonetheless was an immense challenge, which is, after all, what I wanted." Co-starring Lew Ayres, whom Olivia personally requested to be her leading man, The Dark Mirror was a critical and commercial disappointment, despite its impressive technical achievements.

With Marcus Goodrich in 1947
In the summer of 1946, Olivia appeared in James M. Barrie's What Every Woman Knows at the Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut. During a visit to New York with the play's director, Olivia was reacquainted with Marcus Goodrich, a Navy veteran and author of the 1941 best-selling novel Delilah. She knew Goodrich slightly, having met him twice before. Although he was eighteen years older than Olivia and had been married four times before, she was immediately charmed by him. Following a whirlwind courtship, the couple was married on August 26, 1946 in Connecticut. 

Olivia's first film assignment after her wedding was The Snake Pit (1948), the story of a young woman who is placed in a mental institution by her husband to help her recover from a nervous breakdown. Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck at 20th Century Fox, the film opened to critical and commercial acclaim, winning the Academy Award for Best Sound Recording and receiving five additional nominations, including Best Picture. Olivia was nominated for Best Actress, but she lost the Oscar to Jane Wyman for her performance in Johnny Belinda (1948). She was not bitter about the loss, however, saying, "Jane really deserved it, plus I had just made The Heiress."

Based on Henry James' novella Washington Square, The Heiress (1949) was a costume drama about an "ugly duckling" who falls in love with a charming young man — played by newcomer Montgomery Clift — whom her tyrannical father suspects of being a fortune hunter. Like its predecessor, the film was universally praised by critics and earned Olivia her second Oscar for Best Actress. In her acceptance speech, written by her husband, she said, "Your award for To Each His Own I took as an incentive to venture forward. Thank you for this very generous assurance that I have not entirely failed to do so." The Heiress received three additional Academy Awards and four other nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for William Wyler.

Olivia and Benjamin in the French Riviera in 1953
Shortly after giving birth to her son Benjamin in December 1949, Olivia was offered the part of Southern belle Blanche DuBois in Warner Bros.' A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), a screen adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 play of the same name by Tennessee Williams. Although she loved the screenplay — written by Williams himself — she turned it down, later explaining, "The role of Blanche DuBois, challenging though it was, did not and could not appeal to me at that time. Motherhood is a profound experience, especially with one's first child. A year later, when the financial responsibility involved in parenthood became quite clear to me, I had second thoughts about playing Blanche, but this time [Elia] Kazan [the film's director] was considering Vivien Leigh and eventually signed her. I have no regrets about this, as I think her work was superb."

Instead, Olivia moved to New York to begin rehearsals on a Broadway-bound production of Romeo and Juliet; it had been her lifelong ambition to play the Shakespearian heroine on the stage. The drama played to sold-out crowds in Detroit, Cleveland and Boston, before opening in New York in March 1951. Although Olivia received good notices for her portrayal of Juliet, the show closed after 45 performances because of high production costs. Olivia then signed on for an eleven-week summer stock season in George Bernard Shaw's Candida, playing again to sold-out audiences. She subsequently accompanied the company on a transcontinental tour, which concluded with a four-week engagement on Broadway in early 1952. By that point, her marriage to Goodrich had grown strained due to his domineering behavior. From the start, he had put his writing endeavors on hold to focus on all aspects of Olivia's career, including her business affairs and her social commitments. In August 1952, she filed for divorce, which became final the following year. Olivia waived alimony and child support, undertaking full responsibility for Benjamin.

With Richard Burton in My Cousin Rachel
After a three-year absence, Olivia returned to the screen in My Cousin Rachel (1952), a Victorian melodrama based the eponymous novel by Daphne Du Maurier. Directed by Henry Koster, the film was well-received by critics and garnered four Academy Award nominations, including Best Supporting Actor for Richard Burton, in his Hollywood debut. Olivia received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress for her performance as Rachel Ashley, a mysterious young woman who may or may not be a murderess. 

In 1953, on her way to the Cannes Film Festival, Olivia took Benjamin to visit Paris, which was enjoying a post-war Renassaince that captivated her. While there, she met Pierre Galante, the associate secretary general of the French news magazine Paris Match. They were immediately charmed by one another and he joined Olivia at Cannes, later following her to London and the United States. At Pierre's urging, Olivia and Benjamin moved to Paris in October 1953. She began taking French lessons three times a week and eventually became fluent in the language.

Olivia at last returned to the screen to play Spanish princess Ana de Mendoza in That Lady (1955), a costume epic filmed in England and Spain. The film was not a success and even its director, Terence Young, admitted that he "made a mess of it." That year, she also starred in Not as a Stranger (1955), a medical drama made in Hollywood that was Stanley Kramer's directorial debut. Her role as a Swedish nurse who is exploited by an opportunistic young doctor required Olivia to dye her hair blonde. Co-starring Frank Sinatra and Robert Mitchum, Not as a Stranger opened to negative reviews from critics, but it was a solid box-office success.

Olivia and Pierre with their newborn daughter
Shortly after completing Not as a Stranger, Olivia and Pierre Galante were married on April 2, 1955 in Yvoy le Marron, a rustic area noted for pheasant shooting. They settled together in a three-story house near the Bois de Boulogne park in the Rive Droite section of Paris. On July 18, 1956, the couple welcomed a daugther named Gisèle. Prior to the girl's birth, Olivia had made The Ambassador's Daughter (1956), a comedy written, directed and produced by her friend Norma Krasna and filmed in Paris. Before the decade came to a close, she filmed The Proud Rebel (1959), a family drama set during the American Civil War; and Libel (1959), a courtroom drama co-starring Dirk Bogarde.

Following a three-year absence from the screen, Olivia was cast in Light in the Piazza (1962), a romantic drama shot on location in Rome and Florence. Designed by MGM as a vehicle to showcase its young contract players Yvette Mimieux and George Hamilton, the film was well-received by critics, although it fared poorly at the box-office. She subsequently returned to Broadway to co-star opposite Henry Fonda in Garson Kanin's A Gift of Time, about the emotionally painful struggle of a housewife forced to deal with the imminent death of her cancer-stricken husband. Opening at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in February 1962, the play was praised by critics and audiences alike, with Olivia received her best reviews as a stage actress. It was also around this time that her book, Every Frenchman Has One, was published by Random House. The instant best-seller was a light-hearted account of Olivia's often amusing attempts to understand and adapt to French life, manners and customs. Oddly, it was after she wrote about her joyful life in Paris that she and Pierre announced that they were separating. However, they continued to live in the same house for another six years to raise their children. Pierre then moved across the street and two remained close friends, even after the finalization of their divorce in 1979.

Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland
in Hush... Hush Sweet Caroline
Olivia returned to Hollywood to make two psychological thrillers in a row. The first was Lady in a Cage (1964), the story of a wealthy widow who gets trapped in the cage-like elevator she has installed in her mansion. There followed Robert Aldrich's Hush... Hush Sweet Caroline (1964), an eerie tale set in the Deep South in which Olivia played a cruel, conniving woman hidden behind the façade of a polite, cultured lady. Co-starring her good friend Bette Davis, the film was a great success, receiving seven Academy Award nominations. 

As film roles became more difficult to find — a problem shared by many Hollywood veterans of her era — Olivia began working in television dramas, despite her dislike of the networks' pratice of breaking up storylines with commercials. Her first venture into the medium was "Noon Wine," a 51-minute teleplay written by Sam Pekinpah for ABC Stage 67 (1966-1967), in which she co-starred as the embittered wife of a suicidal dairy farmer, played by Jason Robards. She also appeared with Dane Clark and Richard Todd in an episode of The Danny Thomas Hour (1966-1968) called "The Last Hunters."

After a cameo role in Lewis Gilbert's critically panned The Adventurers (1970), Olivia was cast in her first television feature film, The Screaming Woman (1972), a horror flick loosely based on a short story by Ray Bradbury. Co-starring Joseph Cotten and Walter Pidgeon, this was the story a wealthy widow recovering from a nervous breakdown who discovers a woman buried alive, but no one believes her. In early 1971, she flew to London to work with Liv Ullmann and Oscar-winner Maximilian Schell on Michael Anderson's medieval costume drama Pope Joan (1972), in which she played an abbess in 9th-century England who is crucified by pillaging Saxons.

Lilian, Joan and Olivia in the early 1970s
In February 1975, Olivia suffered a bitter loss when her mother died after a long illness. She was by Lilian's side on her deathbed, but Joan was touring in a stage version of Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder (1954). According to Joan, Olivia did not notify her of their mother's death and did not invite her to the memorial service. It was "only after burning the telephone wires from coast to coast" and threatening to "call the press and give them the whole story" that the service was postponed long enough to allow Joan to be in attendance. She said, "Olivia and the executor of the state took full charge, disposing of Mother's effects as well as her body — she was cremated — without bothering to consult me." At the service, the sisters did not speak and, and Joan recalled, "Olivia scattered a handful of ashes, then silently passed the container to me. Thus I said goodbye to my mother. As for Olivia, I had no words at all." This incident effectively marked the beginning of the reputed feud between Olivia and her sister, which ended only with Joan's death in 2013. 

Olivia made only three screen appearances for the remainder of the 1970s. She first had a cameo in the disaster epic Airport '77 (1977), the third entry in the Airport series produced by Universal Pictures. There followed Irwin Allen's The Swarm (1978), a disaster-horror film about African killer bees which was a critical and commercial failure despite an all-star cast that included Michael Caine, Fred MacMurray and Henry Fonda. Olivia's final theatrical venture was The Fifth Musketeer (1979), another spin on the Alexander Dumas swashbuckling classic The Three Musketeers, in which she played the mother of Queen Anne of England.

With Jan Niklas in Anastasia
After The Fifth Musketeer, Olivia's acting assignments were limited to television. She played Henry Fonda's wife in the ABC miniseries Roots II: The Next Generation (1979), which was watched by an estimated audience of 110 million people, nearly one-third of American homes with televisions sets at the time; a spinster in Murder is Easy (1982), based on Agatha Christie's detective novel of the same name; the Queen Mother in The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana (1982); and an elderly nurse in North and South: Book II (1986), the second installment of three-part miniseries set before, during and immediately after the American Civil War. Her most notable performance of the decade was as Dowager Empress Maria in the four-hour miniseries Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986), which earned her a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, as well as an Emmy nomination. Olivia's final screen appearance was in the telefilm The Woman He Loved (1988), about the romance between the Prince of Wales, Edward VIII, and Wallis Simpson.

Around that time, Olivia began writing her memoirs, but the project was never realized due to personal difficulties. Saddest of these was the death of her beloved son Benjamin in 1991. He had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma at the age on 19, but was able to overcome the cancer. The direct cause of his death was heart damage due to poorly administered radiation treatments. In February 1998, Olivia learned that her ex-husband Pierre was ill with lung cancer. She let him stay at her home where she and Gisèle could care for him and even prepared special meals for him, doing her best to make him as comfortable as possible. Because of Pierre's illness, she turned down an invitation to appear at the 70th Academy Awards ceremony in which former Oscar winners were asked to appear for a reunion. Olivia continued to care for Pierre until he died in the fall of 1998. That year, she also made several appearances to promote the 60th anniversary and re-release of Gone with the Wind, including a special screening in Paris where she was a guest of honor.

With George W. Bush in 2008
On March 23, 2003, Olivia made an appearance at the 75th Academy Awards ceremony to present the "Oscar Family Album" segment. In 2004, she returned to Hollywood to help promote the new Gone with the Wind DVD and to accept a lifetime achievement award at Premiere magazine's annual "Women in Hollywood" awards luncheon. That same year, Turner Classic Movies produced Melanie Remembers, a retrospective film in which Olivia reminisced about the casting and filming of Gone with the Wind, as well as a tribute celebrating the 65th anniversary of the film's release.

In 2006, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored Olivia with a two-and-a-half-hour, 90th-birthday salute hosted by TCM's Robert Osborne. The tribute included clips from 15 of her films, including Gone with the Wind, and praise from many of her colleagues. In accepting their acclaim, she recalled being asked by Errol Flynn at their first meeting what she wanted from life. "Respect for difficult work well done," had been her response. "You here tonight […] have made me feel that, perhaps after all, I have achieved that young dream," she told the audience.

Two years later, on November 17, 2008, Olivia received from President George W. Bush the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor given to an individual artist on the behalf of the people of the United States. The medal celebrated "her persuasive and compelling skill as an actress in roles from Shakespeare's Hermia to Margaret Mitchell's Melanie. Her independence, integrity, and grace won creative freedom for herself and her fellow film actors." In 2010, Olivia's adopted country also awarded her its highest honor, the French Legion of Honor. French president Nicolas Sarkozy praised her long, distinguished film career and said, "You honor France for having chosen us." In February 2011, she appeared at the César Awards in France, where she was greeted with a standing ovation. At an event to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Gone with the Wind in 1998, Olivia said, "I want to be there for the 70th anniversary, and I'd like to make the 80th." She made the 70th in 2009; here's hoping she makes the 80th in 2019. Happy 100th birthday, Miss de Havilland.

(July 1, 2016)
Famous people feel that they must perpetually be on the crest of the wave, not realising that it is against all the rules of life. You can't be on top all the time; it isn't natural.

James Stewart by Donal Dewey (2014) | John Huston: Courage and Art by Jeffrey Meyers (2011) | The Complete Gone with the Wind Trivia Book: The Movie and More, 2nd Edition by Pauline Bartel (3014) | The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies by Daniel Bubbeo (2002) | "Joan Fontaine-Olivia de Havilland Feud: New Details Revealed" by Scott Feinberg (2013)


  1. Beautiful tribute and a great telling of her life!!! I learned several new things about Olivia. What an amazing life and career.


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