British American film and stage actress. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1946 and 1949. She is the elder sister of actress Joan Fontaine. The sisters are among the last surviving leading ladies from Hollywood of the 1930s.
Early lifeTokyo, Japan, to parents from the United Kingdom. Her father, Walter Augustus de Havilland (31 August 1872 – 20 May 1968, aged 95), was a patent attorney with a practice in Japan, and her mother, Lilian Augusta Ruse (11 June 1886 – 20 February 1975, aged 88) was a stage actress who had left her career after going to Tokyo with her husband – she would return to work after her daughters had already won fame in the 40s, with the stage name of Lillian Fontaine. Her parents married in 1914 and they separated in 1919, when Lilian decided to end the marriage after discovering that her husband used the sexual services of geisha girls, but divorce was not signed until February 1925.
Her younger sister is the actress Joan de Havilland – better known as Joan Fontaine (born 22 October 1917). Her paternal cousin was Sir Geoffrey de Havilland (1882–1965), an aircraft designer, notably of the De Havilland Mosquito, and founder of the aircraft company which bears his name.
When her mother came from Tokyo, Olivia was two years old, and due to health problems of Joan, who had anemia at the time, they had to go to the United States, by medical recommendation. There, they settled in the town of Saratoga, California. Joan's health improved after they emigrated.
Although she left the profession as an actress, her mother did not fail to appreciate the arts, as she read Shakespeare to her children, and taught them diction and voice. In April 1925 the girls' mother remarried, this time to the owner of a department store, named George M. Fontaine, a man hated by both girls. It was the surname of her stepfather which, years later, Joan took as her stage name after her mother refused to allow her to use the de Havilland name. Her sister Olivia, was already a rising star under the family surname. The girls have never had a good relationship. Olivia, 95 and Joan, 94 years of age, have not spoken since the death of their mother in 1975.
Both sisters attended Los Gatos High School and de Havilland also attended the Notre Dame High School, Belmont. An acting award at Los Gatos is named after her. She participated in school drama club, and in 1933 made her debut in amateur theater, in the lead role in Alice in Wonderland, a production of the Saratoga Community Players based on the work of Lewis Carroll. Her talent for art was beginning to be noticed from there.
CareerHermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream, her first stage production, at the Hollywood Bowl. The stage production was later turned into a 1935 movie, her film debut. Although the stage cast was largely replaced with Warner Bros. contract players, she was hired to reprise her role as Hermia. After appearing with Joe E. Brown in Alibi Ike and James Cagney in The Irish in Us, she played opposite Errol Flynn in such highly popular films as Captain Blood, The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), and as Maid Marian to Flynn's Robin Hood in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Overall, she starred opposite Flynn in eight films.
Allegedly, Joan Fontaine, de Havilland's sister, was approached by George Cukor to audition for Gone with the Wind. He had just directed her in No More Ladies. She was excited until she learned he wanted her for the part of Melanie and not Scarlett. She reportedly turned him down flatly by saying, “Why don’t you ask my sister!” Olivia de Havilland went on to play Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939) and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.
In 1941, de Havilland became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
De Havilland was becoming increasingly frustrated by the roles assigned to her. She felt she had proven herself capable of playing more than the demure ingénues and damsels in distress that were quickly typecasting her, and began to reject scripts that offered her this type of role. When her Warner Bros. contract expired, the studio informed her that six months had been added to it for times she had been on suspension; the law then allowed for studios to suspend contract players for rejecting a role and the period of suspension to be added to the contract period. In theory, this allowed a studio to maintain indefinite control over an uncooperative contractee.
Most accepted this situation, while a few tried to change the system. Bette Davis had mounted an unsuccessful lawsuit against Warner Bros. in the 1930s. De Havilland mounted a lawsuit in the 1940s, supported by the Screen Actors Guild and was successful, thereby reducing the power of the studios and extending greater creative freedom to the performers. The decision was one of the most significant and far-reaching legal rulings in Hollywood. Her victory won her the respect and admiration of her peers, among them her own sister Joan Fontaine who later commented, "Hollywood owes Olivia a great deal". The studio, however, vowed never to hire her again. The California Court of Appeal's ruling came to be informally known, and is still known to this day, as the De Havilland Law. The ruling interpreted the already existing California Labor Code Section 2855. That code section imposes a 7-year limit on contracts for service unless the employee agrees to an extension beyond that term.
Devotion, a Hollywood biography of the Brontë sisters filmed in 1943 but withheld from release during the suspension and litigation, de Havilland signed a three picture deal with Paramount Pictures. The quality and variety of her roles began to improve. James Agee, in his review for The Dark Mirror (1946), noted the change, and stated that although she had always been "one of the prettiest women in movies", her recent performances had proven her acting ability. He commented that she did not possess "any remarkable talent, but her playing is thoughtful, quiet, detailed, and well sustained, and since it is founded, as some more talented playing is not, in an unusually healthful-seeming and likable temperament, it is an undivided pleasure to see." She won Best Actress Academy Awards for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949), and was also widely praised for her Academy Award–nominated performance in The Snake Pit (1948). This was one of the earliest films to attempt a realistic portrayal of mental illness, an 'historically important Hollywood exposé of the grim conditions in state mental hospitals' and de Havilland was lauded for her willingness to play a role that was completely devoid of glamor and that confronted such controversial subject matter. She won the New York Film Critics Award for both The Snake Pit and The Heiress.
During this era, de Haviland was also notable as a staunch liberal, campaigning for Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman. In 1946, determined to protect liberalism from infiltration by communists, she provoked a highly-publicized row: concerned about reports of Stalinist atrocities, de Havilland removed pro-Communist material from speeches prepared for her by the Independent Citizens' Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions, a group later identified as a communist front organization. De Havilland became concerned that the liberal membership of the Independent Citizens' Committee was being manipulated by a small group of communists in leadership positions and that their pro-Soviet statements were damaging the election chances of the Democrats in the 1946 mid-term elections. She organized a fight to regain control of the committee and, upon their failure she resigned, triggering a wave of resignations from other Hollywood figures, including her own star-recruit to the reform camp, Ronald Reagan. Ironically, given her role in galvanizing Hollywood resistance to Soviet influence, de Havilland was denounced that same year (along with Danny Kaye, Frederic March, and Edward G. Robinson) as a "swimming-pool pink" by Time magazine and called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1958 due to her vocal liberal activism in this period.
De Havilland appeared sporadically in films after the 1950s and attributed this partly to the growing permissiveness of Hollywood films of the period. She declined the role of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, allegedly citing the unsavory nature of some elements of the script and saying there were certain lines she could not allow herself to speak. De Havilland denied this in a 2006 interview, saying she had recently given birth to her son when offered the role, which had been a life altering experience, and was unable to relate to the material. The role went to her Gone with the Wind co-star, Vivien Leigh, who won her second Academy Award for her role.
Of her few film appearances in the 1960s chiefly notable are Lady in a Cage (1964), as a crippled widow trapped in a lift and terrorised by intruders, Robert Aldrich's Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and Sam Peckinpah's TV film of Katherine Anne Porter's novella Noon Wine (1966). In 1965, she was the first woman to preside over a Cannes jury. De Havilland continued acting on film until the late 1970s, afterward continuing her career on television until the late 1980s, highlighted by her winning a Golden Globe and earning a Emmy Award nomination for her performance as the Dowager Empress Maria in the 1986 miniseries Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna.
In 2008, de Havilland was awarded the United States National Medal of Arts.
RelationshipsErrol Flynn were known as one of Hollywood's most exciting on-screen couples, appearing in eight films together, but contrary to salacious rumours, were never linked romantically. The eight films in which they co-starred are Captain Blood (1935), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood and Four's a Crowd (1938), Dodge City and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), Santa Fe Trail (1940) and They Died with Their Boots On (1941).
De Havilland stated, "He never guessed I had a crush on him. And it didn't get better either. In fact, I read in something that he wrote that he was in love with me when we made The Charge of the Light Brigade the next year, in 1936. I was amazed to read that, for it never occurred to me that he was smitten with me, too, even though we did all those pictures together." However, in an interview cited on Turner Classic Movies de Havilland claims she knew the crush was reciprocal and further states that Flynn proposed, though de Havilland turned down the proposal as Flynn was at the time still married to actress Lili Damita.
MarriagesDe Havilland married novelist Marcus Goodrich in 1946 and they divorced in 1953. Their son, Benjamin (born in 1949) became a mathematician and died in 1991 after a long battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma. She was married to French journalist and Paris Match editor Pierre Galante between 1955 until 1979. Their daughter, Giselle (Gisèle in French), who later became a journalist, was born in July 1956 when de Havilland was 40. After the divorce, de Havilland and Galante remained on good terms, and she nursed him through his final illness (lung cancer) in Paris, which was the stated reason for her absence from the 70th anniversary of the Oscars in 1998.
Later yearsDe Havilland was good friends with Bette Davis with whom she starred in Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), It's Love I'm After (1937), and In This Our Life (1942). She remained a close friend of actress Gloria Stuart until Stuart's death in 2010, at the age of 100. In April 2008, she attended the Los Angeles funeral of Charlton Heston. In 2008, she was a surprise guest at the Centennial Tribute to Bette Davis.
Sibling rivalryOf the two sisters, de Havilland was the first to become an actress; when Fontaine tried to follow her lead, their mother, who allegedly favored de Havilland, refused to let her use the family name. Subsequently, Fontaine was forced to invent a name, taking first Joan Burfield, and later Joan Fontaine. Biographer Charles Higham records that the sisters have always had an uneasy relationship, starting in early childhood when de Havilland would rip up the clothes Fontaine had to wear as hand-me-downs, forcing Fontaine to sew them back together. A large part of the resentment between the sisters allegedly stemmed from Fontaine's perception that de Havilland was their mother's favorite child.
Both de Havilland and Fontaine were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1942. Fontaine won that year for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion over de Havilland's performance in Hold Back the Dawn. Charles Higham states that Fontaine "felt guilty about winning given her lack of obsessive career drive...". Higham has described the events of the awards ceremony, stating that as Fontaine stepped forward to collect her award, she pointedly rejected de Havilland's attempts at congratulating her and that de Havilland was both offended and embarrassed by her behavior. Several years later, de Havilland remembered the slight and exacted her own revenge by brushing past Fontaine, who was waiting with her hand extended, because de Havilland allegedly took offense at a comment Fontaine had made about de Havilland's husband. De Havilland's relationship with Fontaine continued to deteriorate after the two incidents. Charles Higham has stated that this was the near final straw for what became a lifelong feud, but the sisters did not completely stop speaking to each other until 1975. According to Fontaine, de Havilland did not invite her to a memorial service for their mother, who had recently died. De Havilland claims she informed Fontaine, but Fontaine brushed her off, claiming she was too busy to attend.
Charles Higham records that Fontaine has an estranged relationship with her own daughters as well, possibly because she discovered that they were secretly maintaining a relationship with de Havilland. Both sisters have refused to comment publicly about their feud and dysfunctional family relationships, though in an interview with John Kobal, Fontaine stated categorically that the so-called rivalry was a pure hoax, cooked up by the studio publicity hounds.
In a 1979 interview, Fontaine says the reason she stopped speaking with her sister was because Olivia wanted their mother (who was suffering from cancer) operated on at the age of 88. Joan also says that when their mother died, Olivia didn't even bother to phone to find out where she could be reached (Fontaine was on tour). Instead, Olivia sent a telegram, but it was mailed to Joan two weeks later at her next stop.
De Havilland todayThe book has not yet appeared.
She appeared as a presenter at the 75th Annual Academy Awards in 2003, earning a minute-long standing ovation on her entrance. In June 2006, she made appearances at tributes for her 90th birthday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Los Angeles County Art Museum.
In 2004, Turner Classic Movies put together a retrospective piece called Melanie Remembers in which de Havilland was interviewed for the 65th anniversary of Gone with the Wind's original release. The film's last surviving principal cast member, de Havilland remembered every detail of her casting as well as filming. The 40-minute documentary can be seen on the Gone with the Wind four-disc special collector's edition.
Four of de Havilland's Gone with the Wind co-stars are alive as of February 2012: Alicia Rhett (born February 1, 1915), who played Ashley Wilkes's sister India Wilkes, is the oldest surviving cast member. Also surviving are Mary Anderson (born April 3, 1920), who played Maybelle Meriweather; Ann Rutherford (born November 2, 1920), who played Scarlett O'Hara's younger sister, Carreen O'Hara; and Mickey Kuhn (born September 21, 1932), who played Beau Wilkes.
On 17 November 2008, at the age of 92, de Havilland received the National Medal of Arts.
De Havilland narrated the 2009 documentary, I Remember Better When I Paint. The film is about the importance of art in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. On 22 March 2011, she presented the film at a special screening in Paris.
On 9 September 2010, at the age of 94, Olivia de Havilland was appointed a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur, a decoration awarded by the President of the French Republic.
In February 2011, Olivia de Havilland appeared in France at the César Award. The president of the ceremony, Jodie Foster, introduced her and de Havilland received a standing ovation.
MemoirsIn 1960, de Havilland published her first memoir called Every Frenchman Has One. Her second memoir Now Is the Time is awaiting publication.
Year Title Role Notes
1935 Alibi Ike Dolly Stevens
1935 Irish in Us Lucille Jackson
1935 A Midsummer Night's Dream Hermia, in Love with Lysander as Olivia de Haviland (film debut)
1935 Captain Blood Arabella Bishop
1936 Anthony Adverse Angela Giuseppe
1936 The Charge of the Light Brigade Elsa Campbell as Olivia De Havilland
1937 Call It a Day Catherine 'Cath' Hilton
1937 It's Love I'm After Marcia West
1937 The Great Garrick Germaine de la Corbe
1938 Gold Is Where You Find It Serena 'Sprat' Ferris
1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood Lady Marian Fitzwalter
1938 Four's a Crowd Lorri Dillingwell
1938 Hard to Get Margaret Richards as Olivia De Havilland
1939 Wings of the Navy Irene Dale
1939 Dodge City Abbie Irving
1939 The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex Lady Penelope Gray
1939 Gone with the Wind Melanie Hamilton Wilkes Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1939 Raffles Gwen Manders
1940 My Love Came Back Amelia Cornell
1940 Santa Fe Trail Kit Carson Holliday
1941 The Strawberry Blonde Amy Lind Grimes
1941 Hold Back the Dawn Emmy Brown Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actress
1941 They Died with Their Boots On Elizabeth Bacon Custer
1942 The Male Animal Ellen Turner
1942 In This Our Life Roy Timberlake
1943 Thank Your Lucky Stars Herself
1943 Princess O'Rourke Princess Maria – aka Mary Williams as Olivia DeHavilland
1944 Government Girl Elizabeth 'Smokey' Allard
1946 To Each His Own Miss Josephine 'Jody' Norris Academy Award for Best Actress
1946 Devotion Charlotte Bronte
1946 The Well-Groomed Bride Margie Dawson
1946 The Dark Mirror Terry/Ruth Collins
1948 The Snake Pit Virginia Stuart Cunningham
Nastro d'Argento for Best Actress in a Foreign Film
National Board of Review Award for Best Actress
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actress
1949 The Heiress Catherine Sloper
Academy Award for Best Actress
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
1952 My Cousin Rachel Rachel Sangalletti Ashley Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
1955 That Lady Ana de Mendoza
1955 Not as a Stranger Kristina Hedvigson
1956 The Ambassador's Daughter Joan Fisk
1958 The Proud Rebel Linnett Moore
1959 Libel Lady Margaret Loddon
1962 The Light in the Piazza Meg Johnson
1964 Lady in a Cage Mrs. Cornelia Hilyard
1964 Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte Miriam Deering as Olivia deHavilland
1970 The Adventurers Deborah Hadley as Olivia De Havilland
1972 Pope Joan Mother Superior
1977 Airport '77 Emily Livingston
1978 The Swarm Maureen Schuster as Olivia De Havilland
1979 The Fifth Musketeer Queen (Mary) Mother
2009 I Remember Better When I Paint Narrator
 Short subjects
Year Title Role Notes
1935 A Dream Comes True Herself (uncredited) About the making of A Midsummer Night's Dream
1936 The Making of a Great Motion Picture Herself (uncredited) About the making of Anthony Adverse
1937 A Day at Santa Anita Herself (uncredited) Stars attended a horse race at the famed racetrack
1937 Screen Snapshots Series 16, No. 10 Herself Stars and their pets attend a swim meet
1943 Show Business at War Herself newsreel about progress of the Hollywood war effort
Year Title Role Notes
1966 Noon Wine Ellie Thompson ABC Stage 67
1972 The Screaming Woman Laura Wynant
1979 Roots: The Next Generations Mrs. Warner miniseries
1982 Murder Is Easy Honoria Waynflete as Olivia De Havilland
1982 The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother
1986 North and South II Mrs. Neal miniseries
1986 Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna Dowager Empress Maria
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated — Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
1988 The Woman He Loved Aunt Bessie