Famed beauty Olivia de Havilland turned 103 yesterday on July 1. Best known for her role as Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in the 1939 classic film “Gone With the Wind,” de Havilland was a prolific TV and movie actress. She was nominated for five Academy Awards throughout her career, winning two — one each for “To Each His Own” and “The Heiress.”
Born in 1916, the actress got her big break, thanks to a performance of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Hollywood Bowl in 1933. De Havilland worked closely with dishy movie star Errol Flynn, both in ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood,” where she played Maid Marian, and in the 1935 action film “Captain Blood.”
De Havilland quickly became known for her roles as the gentle and innocent love interest. She started that route with “Gone With the Wind,” her first major dramatic work. She played a character who was the sweet, shy romantic rival of the brave and tempestuous Scarlett O’Hara, portrayed by Vivien Leigh.
While de Havilland is famous in her own right, her sister became a famous actress as well, working under the stage name Joan Fontaine. In fact, de Havilland missed out on an Academy Award for Best Actress in the 1941 movie “Hold Back the Dawn” because the award went to her sister, who won for the role of Lina McLaidlaw Aysgarth in “Suspicion.”
It was said that Fontaine and de Havilland (pictured below) had a longstanding feud and did not speak to each other for nearly 40 years, up until Fontaine’s death in 2013. However, the two remain the only siblings in history to win an Oscar in a lead acting category, according to Forbes.
De Havilland also feuded with Warner Bros. in the 1940s during a legal dispute regarding the length of her contract and with FX in 2017 over her portrayal in the TV series “Feud: Bette and Joan.”
But the actress’ story also includes breaking ground for others. The legal dispute with Warner Bros. resulted in the De Havilland Law, putting limits on how a studio can enforce certain work clauses and easing the indentured servitude of performers.
She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. She was also the first female president of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in France in 1965.
De Havilland’s contributions to the film industry have not gone unnoticed in recent years; the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences held a special tribute for her in 2006. In 2008, President George W. Bush awarded de Havilland the National Medal of Arts.
She also earned the Legion of Honor award from French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010. She is now retired and living in Paris.
Many happy returns, Olivia!