Olivia de Havilland was an Academy Award-winning British actress famous for the role she played in Gone With the Wind and for her sibling rivalry with her sister, Joan Fontaine. TMZ reported that the actress has died at the age of 104.
De Havilland married Marcus Aurelius Goodrich in 1946, with whom she had her son, Benjamin, and the couple divorced in 1952, according to the Los Angeles Times. She married Perre Galante in 1955 and the couple had a daughter, Giselle, before they divorced in 1979.
De Havilland is survived by one child, her daughter, Giselle Galante; her other child, Benjamin Goodrich, who died in 1991, according to Biography.com.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. De Havilland Grew Up Around the Stage
Olivia Mary de Havilland was born July 1, 1916 in Tokyo, Japan, KMIZ-17 reported. She was born to Walter de Havilland, who worked at a patent law firm in Japan and Lillian Ruse, who was trained at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts as an actress and also taught choral music.
According to the Los Angles Times, de Havilland was named from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Both de Havilland and her younger sister, Joan Fontaine, grew up in Northern California.
De Havilland won a scholarship to Mills College in Oakland, California in 1934 which she abandoned to make her debut in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the University of California Berkley’s Greek Theatre, according to KMIZ-17.
2. Her Lawsuit Put the de Havilland Law on the Books
After her debut in the “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” De Havilland became Max Reinhardt’s second understudy, a position which she apparently enjoyed since she referred to him as “the greatest director in the world,” according to the Los Angeles Times. De Havilland followed Reinhardt to Warner Brothers and she contracted with the studio in 1934 for $200 a week.
According to the Times, De Havilland found herself “typecast … as arm candy or in ingenue roles,” which wasn’t what she wanted. Instead, she took unpaid suspensions every time she was offered a role that she found undesirable. Instead, she worked in radio and toured military hospitals during World War II to support the soldiers, according to Biography.com.
De Havilland attempted to wait out the contract until 1943, but Warner subtracted her time during suspension to force her to stay with the studio longer, Biography.com reported. Taking the case all the way to the California Supreme Court in 1945, De Havilland won and the case freed the entirety of Hollywood from the limiting studio contract system with the de Havilland rule: the rule limits the length of a contract to a maximum of seven calendar years.
3. She is Well-Known for Playing Melanie Wilkes in ‘Gone With the Wind’
De Havilland’s debut as a dramatic actress came in 1939, when she was portrayed Melanie Hamilton on the silver screen in Gone With the Wind. In the movie, which was a biopic set during the era of the Civil War, Melanie beats out Scarlett O’Hara’s character to marry Ashley Wilkes.
However, de Havilland had to fight for the role. Because Gone With the Wind was an MGM production, de Havilland had to “sneak” to the studios and meet with producer David O. Selznick and read for the part, according to the Los Angeles Times. “He said tell no one, absolutely no one. I went to a secret entrance and they were waiting for me at the appointed time,” she told the Times. After reading two scenes, Selznick agreed to cast her if Warner agreed that she could act for another studio. De Havilland said she had to convince Mrs. Warner to let her take the role.
De Havilland received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in her role as Melanie, according to Biography.com.
4. De Havilland Was Half of An Infamous Hollywood Sibling Rivalry
According to Biography.com, de Havilland and her sister Fontaine had a contentious childhood:
Though they did occasionally play together, their clashes were frequent, featuring slaps (Joan) and hair-pulling (Olivia). Joan also accused Olivia of tearing up her outgrown clothes because she didn’t want them to go to her younger sister, and also of breaking Fontaine’s collarbone when she tried to pull her older sister into a swimming pool.
De Havilland, according to Biography.com, tried to send Joan to finishing school to get her away from Hollywood, and she also demanded that her sister Joan change her last name because she didn’t want two de Havillands in Hollywood.
De Havilland and her sister had not spoken to one another since the 1970s, when their mother died, Biography.com reported. De Havilland was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress following her 1941 role in Hold Back the Dawn but lost out to her sister. She did receive her second Oscar for that role, however, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The sisters’ competition extended beyond their professional lives into their personal ones; according to Biography.com, Fontaine married Brian Aherne — one of De Havilland’s boyfriends — in 1939 and became the first of the two to marry.
In Fontaine’s 1978 memoir, No Bed of Roses, she described her hatred of her sister and listed complaints since their childhood. She later told People magazine that she had essentially divorced her sister and didn’t intend to see her.
After Fontaine died in 2013, de Havilland said, “I was shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of my sister, Joan Fontaine, and my niece, Deborah, and I appreciate the many kind expressions of sympathy that we have received,” according to Biography.com.
5. She Was Awarded the National Medal of Arts
De Havilland has 61 credits as an actress and her career spanned from 1935 to 1988, according to IMDb.
Some of her early favorites and successes, Biography.com reported, include “To Each His Own,” where she played an unwed mother and won an Academy Award for Best Actress and, The Snake Pit, where de Havilland played a woman sent to an insane asylum and one of the first movies to explore mental health during that era.
De Havilland also worked alongside Bette Davis in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte in 1964; de Havilland said of Davis, “Bette is the greatest. The industry owes her this,” according to Goerie. According to the Los Angeles Times, she admired her good friend Bette Davis:
I believed in following Bette Davis’ example,” she told The Times in 1988. “She didn’t care whether she looked good or bad. She just wanted to play complex, interesting, fascinating parts, a variety of human experience. I wanted Melanie to be just one of the images. Let’s have a few others.
Later on in life, de Havilland took on more television roles, such as The Big Valley, The Danny Thomas Hour, North and South and Book II, Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna.
De Havilland won several awards during her lifetime, including five Oscars, three Golden Globes, two Academy Awards and one Primetime Emmy. In 1960, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
On November 17, 2008, U.S. President George W. Bush held a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, where she was presented the National Medals of Arts. In 2010, she was also appointed to be a chevalier of France’s Legion of Honour and in 2017, she was granted the title of “Dame Commander” during Queen Elizabeth II’s 2017 birthday.