Olivia de Havilland

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Olivia de Havilland (2000)
Olivia de Havilland Signature.png

Dame Olivia Mary de Havilland DBE ( / də ˈhævɪlənd / ) (born July 1, 1916 in Tokyo , Japan , † July 26, 2020 in Paris , France ) was a British - American film actress . The sister of actress Joan Fontaine was one of the film legends of the " Golden Era of Hollywood ". Her roles in Mutterherz (1946) and The Heiress (1949) earned her the Oscar for best leading actress in 1947 and 1950, respectively .

It was discovered in 1935 by Max Reinhardt for his production A Midsummer Night's Dream . She then appeared with Errol Flynn as a screen couple between 1935 and 1941 in eight films, including in Unter Piratenflagge and Robin Hood, King of the Vagabonds . Her portrayal of Melanie Hamilton in the classic film Gone With the Wind (1939) was honored with a nomination for an Oscar for best supporting actress . In the 1940s, her legal battle with Warner Brothers over the duration of studio contracts ended with one of the most important fundamental decisions on the subject.


Olivia de Havilland was born on July 1, 1916 in Tokyo to British parents. Her sister, Joan Fontaine , was born a year later. Her father Augustus de Havilland , a cousin of the aviation pioneer Geoffrey de Havilland , was a patent attorney working in Japan who had previously taught as an English professor at the University of Tokyo . Her mother Lillian Fontaine was a stage actress before moving to Japan and had studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art . In the 1940s, when her daughters became famous, Lillian Fontaine starred in several films. The parents, who married in 1914, separated in 1919 and divorced in 1925. The father's infidelity is said to have been the reason for the divorce.

The mother moved to Saratoga , California, with her two daughters in 1919 . She trained her daughters for a stage career at an early age and sent them to appropriate schools. Olivia attended Notre Dame High School in Belmont and Los Gatos High School . During this time the mother married the department store owner George M. Fontaine. In 1933 Olivia de Havilland made her theatrical debut in a stage version of Alice in Wonderland . She received good reviews and was already briefly engaged as a replacement for the role of Hermia in Max Reinhardt's stage production of Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream in the Hollywood Bowl . When the actual actress was making a film, de Havilland took on the role. Finally, the renowned theater director Reinhardt decided that de Havilland could permanently play the role of Hermia. A little later Reinhardt brought her in front of the camera for the film adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream .

Film career

1935–1939: Rise to star

Olivia de Havilland made her screen debut as Hermia in the film adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream from 1935, directed by Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle . She received a permanent studio contract with Warner Brothers and immediately afterwards became the leading lady at the side of Joe E. Brown used in Alibi Ike and alongside James Cagney in The Irish In Us . De Havilland finally had her breakthrough that same year alongside Errol Flynn in the adventure film Captain Blood , which was released in late 1935 and led to a revival of the adventure film genre with its box office success. Due to the positive response from audience and press, the studios used the two young actors as a screen couple in seven other films over the next few years, including The Treason of Surat Khan from 1936 and the classic film Robin Hood, King of the Vagabonds from 1938 as Maid Marian. Flynn and de Havilland were often assumed to be lovers because of their harmony on the big screen, but de Havilland always denied this. They would have had a purely friendly relationship, even if Flynn is said to have been in love with them during The Betrayal of Surat Khan .

While the roles at Flynn's side remained rather one-dimensional and limited to the romance with the main actor, de Havilland also played early in dramas, including as a partner of Fredric March in the award-winning literary adaptation Anthony Adverse from 1936. She was also the end of the In the 1930s she appeared in a number of screwball comedies , including as a love- admirer in It's Love I'm After (1937) alongside Leslie Howard and Bette Davis and in Love for Four (1938), once again alongside Errol Flynn and Patric Knowles .

1939–1949: career high point as a dramatic actress

Olivia de Havilland at a soldier's bedside in Kodiak , Alaska (1944)

Her breakthrough as a dramatic actress came in 1939 as the kind-hearted Melanie Hamilton with Gone with the Wind . For her performance, Olivia de Havilland received a 1939 Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress , although she is announced in the opening credits as a leading actress; however, she was defeated by Hattie McDaniel . With this film, de Havilland had the first of many conflicts with the studio in 1938, after management initially refused to loan it to Gone With the Wind producer David O. Selznick . Olivia de Havilland eventually turned to studio boss Jack L. Warner's wife for the role. Through the embodiment of Melanie Hamilton, she was used even more often for down-to-earth and honest, at the same time often somewhat shy characters. In 1941 she was nominated for the Oscar for best actress for Mitchell Leisen's The Golden Gate , but she lost to her sister Joan Fontaine and her appearance under suspicion . In the drama, de Havilland played a naive American teacher who marries a Romanian who is stuck on the Mexican-American border, but who is only interested in an entry permit. Their last joint appearance alongside Flynn was also in 1941 in His last command .

In the meantime, her argument with Warner Brothers for better roles escalated. In 1943, shortly after filming the drama Devotion , in which she played Charlotte Brontë , Olivia de Havilland was suspended from her studio and was no longer allowed to make films. In 1944, at the end of a long legal battle, a California appeals court ruled in favor of the actress. The previously common practice of automatically extending the duration of a studio contract by the time in which actors were suspended was banned. Contracts in show business with a term of more than seven years were also prohibited. The ruling became part of the so-called de Havilland Law , a labor law regulation for the entertainment industry in California, which re-regulated the duration of the studio contracts customary in Hollywood at the time. The ruling helped many of the big Hollywood stars to start working without a studio contract, causing the studio system to lose power. According to the De Havilland Law , lawsuits in American show business are still decided today.

The Heiress : 1949 Movie Poster, Olivia de Havilland left, Montgomery Clift right

The actress has since worked without a permanent studio engagement and changed roles. After she had previously played almost exclusively good-natured and ladylike characters, she now often took on dramatic roles with dark facets. She was seen as identical twins in the film noir The Black Mirror , which coincides in a murder case, one of them being the murderer. She won her first Oscar for best actress in 1946 for the two world wars spanning melodrama Mutterherz , again directed by Mitchell Leisen, in which she played a woman who was separated from her son. Two years later she was nominated again for an Oscar, this time for her performance in The Snake Pit . Directed by Anatole Litvak , the film thematized the unreasonable conditions in American mental hospitals at the time. For her portrayal in The Heir , William Wyler's film adaptation of the play of the same name by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, which is based on Henry James Roman Washington Square , de Havilland won her second Oscar for best actress in 1950 . In The Heiress she again played a shy and inconspicuous woman who takes revenge on her lover, who left her behind years ago.

Withdrawal from the movie business and late movies

From the beginning of the 1950s, with the rise of television, fewer films were produced in Hollywood than before, and the battle for roles became tougher, so de Havilland preferred to make fewer films and take more care of her children. She turned down the role of Blanche DuBois in the classic film Endstation Sehnsucht (1951), which she had been offered before Vivien Leigh . Her best-known films from the 1950s include the drama My Cousin Rachel with Richard Burton and ... and not as a stranger , where she plays a nurse whose husband (played by Robert Mitchum ) married her only for financial reasons. During this time she also starred in three Broadway productions, including Juliet in Romeo and Juliet . One critic commented on her leading role in the horror film Lady in a Cage , which showed her in 1964 as a helpless victim of burglars:

Add Olivia to the name of actresses who would rather be freaks than forgotten. "(German:" Count Olivia to the kind of actresses who would rather be fools than be forgotten. ")

Also in 1964, Olivia de Havilland replaced the sick Joan Crawford in Robert Aldrich's Grand Guignol film Lullaby for a Corpse . In it, she played the vicious cousin of Bette Davis , who wants to drive her insane so that she can get at her fortune. In 1965 she served as the first female jury president at the Cannes Film Festival . In the 1970s she sporadically took on important supporting roles in some films such as Pope Johanna or Verschollen im Bermuda Triangle . In the popular miniseries Torches in the Storm in 1986 she played Mrs. Neil , the administrative inspector of a hospital in several episodes - in addition to De Havilland, other old stars such as Elizabeth Taylor , James Stewart and Robert Mitchum played in the series. In 1986 she won her second Golden Globe for portraying the Russian queen mother Maria in the television film Anastasia . After appearing in the television film King of Her Heart (1988), De Havilland withdrew from the acting business entirely. Only in 2009 she acted again as the narrator of the short film documentary I Remember Better When I Paint , which dealt with the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

Private life

Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine are the only sibling to have ever won an Academy Award for actresses. The press has always speculated about the tense relationship between the two sisters. A rift is said to have arisen at the Academy Awards in 1942 when Fontaine is said to have fended off de Havilland's attempt to congratulate her on her way to the podium. Fontaine thought her older sister was jealous: "I got married first, won the Oscar before Olivia, and if I should die before her she will no doubt be angry because I was faster again." After Joan's death in December 2013 said de Havilland that she was "upset and sad" about her sister's death.

From December 1939 to March 1942, de Havilland was in a relationship with James Stewart , who even planned a wedding with her. When Stewart was at war, de Havilland fell in love with director John Huston . In 1946 the actress married the war veteran and writer Marcus Goodrich (1897-1991). Their son Benjamin was born in 1949. He died on October 1, 1991 of Hodgkin's lymphoma . De Havilland's marriage to Goodrich ended in divorce in 1952. In 1955 she married Pierre Galante (1909–1998), an employee of Paris Match , and moved with him to Paris , where she lived to the end. In 1956 the daughter Gisele was born. They separated in 1962, but Galante and de Havilland did not divorce until 1979. De Havilland remained friends with him and nursed him for a few years until he died from cancer.

Olivia de Havilland in the 21st century

Olivia de Havilland with George W. Bush at the awarding of the National Medal of Arts (2008)

Olivia de Havilland seldom made public appearances. In 2003 she presented a large group of Oscar winners with an introduction at the 75th Academy Awards . In 2004 Turner interviewed Classic Movies de Havilland about the film Gone with the Wind . In 2006 she was honored with a gala by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences . Two years later she was presented with the National Medal of Arts from George W. Bush , according to the then US President for her “compelling and irresistible ability as an actress in roles from Shakespeare's Hermia to Margaret Mitchell's Melanie. Her independence, integrity and grace gained creative freedom for herself and other film actors ”(the last sentence is an allusion to the de Havilland Law ). In France, Olivia de Havilland was made Knight of the Legion of Honor by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010.

De Havilland has been the oldest living person to win an Oscar since Elmo Williams' death in December 2015. She was one of the last living stars from the studio system of the "Golden Age of Hollywood" . In a January 2015 interview, she stated that she was currently working on her autobiography. On the occasion of her 100th birthday, the actress was recognized in numerous press reports in 2016. In June 2017, two weeks before her 101st birthday, Elizabeth II made her a lady as the oldest woman to date . De Havilland described this honor as "the most enjoyable of all birthday gifts".

In mid-June 2017, De Havilland filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against the television series Feud on the US broadcaster FX. It is about the rivalry between Hollywood divas Joan Crawford and Bette Davis . De Havilland, portrayed in the series by Catherine Zeta-Jones , felt she was misquoted and misrepresented, according to her lawyer. Your reputation will be damaged. The lawsuit was dismissed on March 26, 2018, whereupon De Havilland announced that he wanted to turn on the American Supreme Court , but that came to nothing.

Olivia de Havilland died of natural causes in her Paris home in July 2020 at the age of 104.


Olivia de Havilland's admitted star on the
Walk of Fame in 1960


  • 1940 - Nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Gone With the Wind
  • 1942 - Nominated for Best Actress for The Golden Gate
  • 1947 - Oscar for Best Actress for Mother Heart
  • 1949 - nominated for Best Actress for The Snake Pit
  • 1950 - Oscar for Best Actress for The Heiress

Golden Globes

Further film awards

New York Film Critics Award

  • 1948: Won for The Snake Pit
  • 1949: Won for The Heiress

National Board of Review Award

  • 1948: Won for Die Schlagengrube

Venice International Film Festival

Cannes International Film Festival

  • 2015: "Women in Motion Honor" award

Further honors


TV appearances (selection)

Hand and shoe prints at Grauman's Chinese Theater
  • 1965: Big Valley - 1 episode
  • 1966: Noon Wine
  • 1968: The Danny Thomas Hour
  • 1969: The Screaming Woman
  • 1979: Roots : The Next Generations - 2 episodes
  • 1981: Love Boat - 1 episode
  • 1982: Murder Is Easy
  • 1982: The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana
  • 1985: Torches in a Storm (North and South) - 6 episodes
  • 1986: Anastasia (Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna)
  • 1988: King of Her Heart (The Woman He Loved)


  • Tony Thomas : The Films of Olivia de Havilland. with a foreword by Bette Davis . Citadel Press, Secaucus (New Jersey) 1983, ISBN 0-8065-0805-1 (English).
  • Victoria Amador: Olivia de Havilland: Lady Triumphant. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington 2019, ISBN 978-0-8131-7727-4 (English).
  • Olivia de Havilland: Every Frenchman Has One. Random House, New York 1962; New edition: Crown Archetype, New York 2016, ISBN 978-0-451-49739-0

Web links

Commons : Olivia de Havilland  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ↑ Film legend Olivia de Havilland died at the age of 104. Der Spiegel, July 26, 2020.
  2. Hollywood mourns a legend. In: FAZ.net. July 27, 2020.
  3. 'Gone With the Wind' star Olivia de Havilland dies at 104
  4. Thomas, Tony. The Films of Olivia de Havilland. New York: Citadel Press, 1983. ISBN 978-0-8065-0988-4
  5. Interview with Olivia de Havilland at DailyMail
  6. Kiel Film Lexicon: "De Havilland Law"
  7. Katherine J. Wu: Hollywood's 'Golden Age' Saw Massive Dip in Female Film Representation. Retrieved May 2, 2020 .
  8. "30 Seconds to Mars Soars" , article in the Los Angeles Times of November 29, 2009
  9. Interview with Olivia de Havilland at DailyMail
  10. Olivia de Havilland at Notstarring.com
  11. Olivia de Havilland at the Internet Broadway Database
  12. ^ Henry Chu: Olivia De Havilland Remembers Being the First Female Cannes Jury President . In: Variety . May 2, 2018 ( variety.com [accessed May 3, 2018]).
  13. Hitchcock heroine: Actress Joan Fontaine is dead. In: Spiegel Online . December 16, 2013, accessed June 9, 2018 .
  14. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/olivia-de-havilland-shocked-and-saddened-by-sister-joan-fontaines-death/
  15. Fishgall, James. Pieces of Time: The Life of James Stewart. New York: Scribners, 1997. ISBN 978-0-684-82454-3
  16. "Olivia de Havilland presenting the 75th Past Oscar Winner Reunion" on YouTube
  17. Olivia de Havilland at Hollywood's Golden Age
  18. Video of the award ceremony on YouTube
  19. ^ Allied Newspapers Ltd: Olivia de Havilland honored by President Nicolas Sarkozy . In: Times of Malta . ( timesofmalta.com [accessed March 4, 2018]).
  20. Missy Schwartz: The Last Star: An evening with Olivia de Havilland
  21. SPIEGEL online article on the 100th birthday
  22. Honors: arise Dame Olivia, star of film's golden age , The Times
  23. There is nothing like a lady. Accessed January 24, 2020 (English). , The Oldie Magazine
  24. ^ Queen's Birthday Honors: Arise Sir Billy Connolly as Paul McCartney, JK Rowling and Delia Smith given honors , The Telegraph
  25. Olivia de Havilland, at 101, gears up for a fight in 'Feud' court battle. August 30, 2017. Retrieved January 24, 2020 (American English).
  26. ^ Paul Brownfield: At 101, a Survivor of Hollywood's Golden Age Throws Down the Gauntlet . In: The New York Times . March 3, 2018, ISSN  0362-4331 ( nytimes.com [accessed April 29, 2020]).
  27. Associated Press: Olivia de Havilland's Feud lawsuit thrown out on first amendment grounds . In: The Guardian . March 27, 2018, ISSN  0261-3077 ( theguardian.com [accessed January 24, 2020]).
  28. Julie Miller: Olivia de Havilland Wants to Take Her Feud Case to Supreme Court. Retrieved December 13, 2018 .
  29. Bruce Haring, Bruce Haring: Olivia de Havilland Dies: Oscar-Winning 'Gone With The Wind' Actress Passes At 104. In: Deadline. July 26, 2020, accessed on July 26, 2020 .
  30. Sydney Levine, Sydney Levine: Cannes'15: Jane Fonda, Olivia de Havilland and Megan Ellison to Receive 'Women in Motion' Honor Awards. In: IndieWire. May 14, 2015, accessed December 5, 2018 .
  31. Star role for actress at degree ceremony. Retrieved April 18, 2020 (English).
  32. Olivia de Havilland wins Oldie Accolade . In: BBC News . February 2, 2016 ( bbc.com [accessed April 18, 2020]).