Friday, January 21, 2011

Olivia de Havilland (b. 1916)

Olivia was born in Tokyo, Japan to British parents. Her father traveled frequently with his job as a patent attorney while her mother found work on the stage . Her equally famous sister Joan Fontaine was born just a year later. (I'l be doing a post on Joan shortly).  Her parents relocated to California with it's dry climate when the girls were small due to Joan suffering from chronic illnesses.  The warm weather not only cured Joan of her illnesses but it was the perfect setting for Olivia to study drama in high school before being discovered by director Max Reinhardt.  She was cast in her first Hollywood Bowl Production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" straight away.

Warner Bro's took notice, assigning her to appear as Hermia in the film adaptation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in 1935 which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.  A long term contract with the studio soon followed and Olivia was on her way to a long and successful career in film and the stage.  Her first motion picture under contract was in the very successful "Captain Blood" with her swashbuckling co-star Errol Flynn in 1935. (Receiving co-star status and being cast opposite Errol isn't too shabby for just starting out in Hollywood).   The film was nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture but lost out to "Mutiny On the Bounty".  (So for her first year as a professional actress she was cast in TWO films that were up for Best Picture.  Quite impressive indeed)!

Olivia with Fredric March in "Anthony Adverse" 1936

Olivia co-starred with the very talented Fredric March in the period piece "Anthony Adverse" in 1936 which was also nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.  Her only other film that year was the equally successful action, adventure "The Charge of the Light Brigade" which co-starred Errol Flynn and David Niven with the great director Michael Curtiz at the helm. I won't get into a film review here but I really enjoyed the movie and consider it one of my favorites of Olivia's early roles.  I can't deny that the historical aspects of the film aren't accurate but it was physically appealing and the fact that Errol doesn't win the girl was a welcome surprise.  (I'll be doing posts on Niven and Flynn in the near future).  

Olivia's three films in 1937 were comedies, "Call It A Day" with Ian Hunter and Anita Louise, "It's Love I'm After" co-starring Bette Davis and Leslie Howard then the period piece "The Great Gerrick" with Brian Aherne.  He would marry her sister Joan just two years later. 

With her dashing co-star, Errol Flynn in "The Charge of the Light Brigade" 1936

publicity still for "The Charge of the Light Brigade"

Olivia shot her second film under Michael Curtiz at the beginning of 1938, the historical drama "Gold Is Where You Find It" co-starring Claude Rains.  Of course the studio put her right back in an action adventure with her favorite leading man Errol Flynn shortly after rapping up with Curtiz.  She was being rescued in the Sherwood Forest by her hero clad in tights in "The Adventures of Robin Hood".  Olivia plays a very convincing Maid Marian in her third Curtiz vehicle which also starred Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains. 

I recall not very long ago when one of my younger twitter followers tweeted about Russell Crowe starring in his version of Robin Hood.  She said something about Kevin Costner would always be the original Robin Hood and not replaced! I had to laugh before sending a response correcting her and mentioning Errol Flynn as the original and best by far! She did agree by saying "Oh, how could I forget Errol" but I doubt she knew who I was referring to.  I guess to young audiences Costner's depiction was a long time ago.  

with Errol in "The Adventures of Robin Hood" 1938

Olivia and Errol teamed up again in 1938 for the romantic comedy "Four's a Crowd".  I have to say that I really liked Errol in comedies and it's a shame the studio didn't cast him in more of this genre.  Not that he's not fantastic in the action adventures that skyrocketed him to fame and created his legacy but I don't think we really got to see his full potential as a leading man in comedies.  After all he looked just as irresistible in a top hat and tails as he did galloping through forest's in his tights.  Olivia also starred in the equally funny light comedy "Hard to Get" opposite Dick Powell that year.  

With Dick Powell in "Hard to Get" 1938

Olivia continued to land great roles in 1939 not only on the set but in her personal life. She married the writer/actor Marcus Goodrich.  They would have one son together before divorcing just a few years later in 1953.  Not only a newlywed Olivia would have one of the most successful years of her career in 1939.  First up was "Dodge City" again with Errol, Ann Sheridan and Bruce Cabot.  I have to admit that I'm not that big a fan of western's but I did find "Dodge City" enjoyable.  Next up was the lavish period piece "Essex and Elizabeth" starring Bette Davis and Errol Flynn.  Of course it's common knowledge that Bette and Errol did not get on well and clashed throughout filming but I'll save that for a post on Errol or Bette later on.  I'm sure it wasn't the ideal working environment for Olivia, director Curtiz or anyone else within 10 feet of the battling ego's though.  

She looks a lot like her sister Joan Fontaine here

Olivia would go on to film the remake of "Raffles" opposite David Niven, a romantic, crime, adventure.  Some would say it doesn't stand up to the original from 1930 with Ronald Coleman and Kay Francis but I love David Niven and Olivia together.  Olivia's last film of 1939 was "Gone with the Wind".  A spectacular way to end a year but I don't know how she managed to wrap up four grand films back to back.  Especially when you compare it to actors today who may star in one film every year or two.  She plays the demure but very patient Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in GWTW which garnered her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.  Of course the movie won multiple awards including Best Picture.  I'm not sure anyone reading this post or who's a lover of film needs a description or a synopsis of "Gone With the Wind" as it should be a must see on everyone's list (even if it is very long at 238 minutes).  The only other films I've ever seen that would compete with this time are "Schindler's List" and "Giant" and I've seen both films at least five times so some things are worth the effort.  

As the endearing Melanie in "Gone with the Wind" 1939

Olivia made only two films in 1940, "My Lover Came Back" with Jeffrey Lynn then the western "Santa Fe Trail" with Errol Flynn, Raymond Massey and Ronald Reagan.  (It's a good thing that she had a close friendship with Errol although I wouldn't complain about spending several months a year on the set with him or the handsome Jeffrey Lynn for that matter).  By 1941 Olivia was at odds with Warner Bro's and voicing her unhappiness about filming so many period pieces back to back as well as being typecast as the "damsel in distress".  She just didn't feel like she had any say in her roles or the opportunity to branch out into different genres.  She began to reject roles that portrayed her as the damsel in distress and when her contract with Warner Bro's ran out they added another six months to her contract for every role she had refused (causing a studio suspension).  Thanks to Bette Davis paving the way with an unheard of law suit against Warner Bro's in the 1930's (but losing) Olivia sued Warner Bro's with the backing of the Screen Actors Guild in 1941 due to this treatment and won.  This would give actors and actresses more power and say in what film roles they would except and put an end to their long suspensions and contract extensions as punishment.  Of course this ended her relationship with Warner Bro's who she devoted her first years to and she made rich along with her co-stars in all of those "period pieces".  

Click on Olivia's autograph from my collection and photos for a larger view

Olivia starred in the campy comedy "The Strawberry Blonde" in 1941 opposite James Cagney and Rita Hayworth then the drama "Hold Back the Dawn" co-starring Charles Boyer and Paulette Goddard before filming "They Died with Their Boots On" set during the civil war, reuniting her with Flynn.  The Raul Walsh film was pretty much a biopic on General Custer's life and another box office success for Olivia and Errol.  Fresh from her law suit in 1942. Olivia was cast in two not so memorable films the following year.  Paving the way for the second phase of her career and much better script choices.  Her first role that year was as a Princess in the romantic comedy "Princess O'Rourke" opposite Robert Cummings.  Her second film that year was another romantic comedy "Government Girl" co-starring Sonny Tufts.  (I've never heard of either of these films and I assume they were the studios way of punishing Olivia over her law suit).  

With the very dapper Jeffrey Lynn in "My Lover Came Back" 1940

Olivia with her equally talented and famous sister Joan Fontaine

After a three year hiatus Olivia returned to acting in 1946 with her first film "To Each His Own" garnering her the Best Actress Oscar that had previously eluded her.  The romantic drama takes place during WWI with Olivia's character finding her self pregnant with an illegitimate child then giving him up for adoption only to regret it, spending her life loving the child from afar. 

With Errol in "Virginia City"

Paramount offered Olivia a three picture deal after the success of "To Each His Own" allowing her a choice in which scripts she accepted thus paving the way for better roles for her during 1946.  Her next picture was "Devotion" starring Ida Lupino and Paul Henreid . A biopic about the lives of Emily and Charlotte Bronte.  Olivia took the role of Charlotte with Lupino having top billing as Emily Bronte.  Olivia also starred in the comedic hit "The Well-Groomed Gentleman" opposite Ray Milland.  Her final film released in 1946 was "The Dark Mirror", her first film-noir thriller which co-starred  Lew Ayres.  (From my understanding, Olivia had filmed these pictures during her suspension from Warner Bro's during 1943 but they could not be released until 1946 due to her on going litigation).  

Olivia's next on screen appearance was in the hugely successful "The Snake Pit" 1948, her only film that year. The majority of the film takes place in an insane asylum where Olivia's character has no memory of her past and struggles all while we see the naivety, ignorance and misconceptions of mental illness and psychiatric treatment during that era.  Olivia would follow it up with "The Heiress" in 1949 which gave her a second Academy Award for her role as a shy, naive girl who falls for a fortune hunter (Today we would say a gold digger).  She falls madly in love with this mysterious man played by Montgomery Clift only to have him break her heart over and over before she exacts her revenge.  I did like the film but it isn't my favorite of Olivia's many great roles. 

Now able to pick her roles while no longer under the constraints of putting out picture after picture, Olivia accepted less frequent roles.  She appeared in only one film during 1952. then three during 1955.  Of course she went through a divorce in 1953 then married for a second time in 1955 to the French journalist Pierre Galante.  They would have one daughter together, Giselle.  In 1958 Olivia would appear in another Michael Curtiz western opposite Alan Ladd "The Proud Rebel".  Olivia's last film was the critically successful "Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte" opposite Bette Davis, Joseph Cotton and Agnes Moorehead.

The horror classic was nominated for 7 Oscars.  I haven't thought of this movie in years but it really was creepy and it's worthy of a photo montage review so I'll keep that on the back burner for a future fun post).  I remember my parents taking us to see the plantation house where this was filmed in Louisiana.  Of course it wasn't scary at all but beautiful with it's manicured gardens. You have to love the ability of Hollywood to stage locations.  The best thing about this film is Agnes Moorhead who steals the movie and deserved her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  

After filming a small cameo for "Airport 77" in 1977 Olivia turned to television like so many stars of her day.  She last appeared on a television show in 1988.  Of course she was one of the screen icons who made a special appearance during the 75th Academy Awards ceremony in 2003, receiving a standing ovation.  Miss de Havilland lost her son Benjamin to Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 1991.  Olivia has made Paris her home since the 1950's where she prefers to stay out of the public eye.  She was to be working on a draft of her autobiography which I certainly can't wait to read.  Olivia starred in over 70 films during her career that spanned over 6 decades.  

Olivia with her son Benjamin.  So adorable!

With sister Joan Fontaine during the 1940's

Olivia de Havilland Fun Facts:

After the success of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" Joan Crawford was cast to play the role that went to Olivia after Joan backed out of the project.  Vivien Leigh was also approached to play the part but turned it down.

She received the National Medal of Arts in 1992 which was presented by President George Bush.  

Her and her sister Joan Fontaine are the first sisters to win Oscars and the first siblings to be nominated for the same award during the same year.  It's often been speculated that the ceremony in which Joan Fontaine won her Oscar for "Suspicion" is when her and Olivia's feud began.  Both have different accounts on what occurred that night but they feel the other one felt snubbed when Joan brushed by Olivia on her way up to accept her Oscar.  Neither sister has spoken at all since the death of their mother in 1975.  (I hope they make amends before it's too late.  That really is troubling to hear and who knows perhaps they have reconciled by now).

Although Olivia avoids public appearances she does teach Sunday school at her local Paris church.

She was offered the role of Blanche DeBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire" that went to Vivien Leigh but turned it down due to recently giving birth to her son.  

In September of 2010 at the age of 94 she received the Knight of the Legion of Honor by the President of the French Republic.

She remained good friends with both Bette Davis and Gloria Stuart until their deaths.  

Even though divorced from her husband Pierre Galante for several years they remained friends then when he was in the late stages of cancer she stayed by his side, caring for him until his death in 1998.  

She is the only surviving Lead cast member of "Gone With the Wind".

It was always rumored that Olivia and Errol Flynn were romantically involved off screen during their early careers which they both denied early on.  Much later de Havilland did confess that Errol had very strong feelings for her and once proposed but she did not accept since he was still married to but separated from wife Lili Damita.  

Heres a link to the Houmas House where "Hush....Hush, Sweet Charlotte" was filmed. (Both exterior and interior shots). Theres a fun section on all of the films, television shows that have been filmed there as well. Click HERE to visit the site.

Thanks so much for hanging in there with me through such a long post.  Please share your favorite de Havilland movie or discuss her career.  Or if you have interesting information about Olivia be sure to leave a comment.  Until next time please enjoy the below trailer for "The Adventures of Robin Hood"


  1. Olivia is one of my favorite actresses, to thank u very much for this post, I really enjoyed it. I have never heard before about "Devotion" and some others, I wish I could get them. Can't wait to read your post about Errol, I'm reading his autobiography right now :)

  2. Hi Clara,

    Are you reading My Wicked Wicked Ways or Errol Flynn: The Untold Story... I've been trying to revisit both books since Errol's life was one long adventure with scandal and many relationships thrown in. Although I enjoyed his official autobiography the other book disputes a lot of his take on things.

    Perhaps Errol just enjoyed having a go at the public which seemed to give him great joy. What's so interesting is how he elaborated his early life all the way down to where he was born and how he landed in Great Britain.

    Whichever one you're reading they're both excellent books. I may have to do a two part post on ole Errol. : )

    I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Thank You

  3. Great profile, Page! Very thorough discussion of Olivia's life. And what a life it's been!


  4. I'm glad you enjoyed it Caroline! It's hard to believe this blog started as a way to archive my vast autograph collection but it certainly is enjoyable to look back on the stars behind the signatures.
    Have a great weekend.

  5. Yeah, Page, I'm reading My Wicked Wicked Ways, it's really awesome, even when at some points the stories are too fantastic to be true :) But it's as entertaining as the adventure books by Verne!

  6. I've got to pick up My Wicked Wicked Ways again. The print is so small on my copy that I got tired of trying to read it! It definitely looked promising though.

    I'm looking forward to your Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte post.

  7. Hi KC,
    I also took notice that I did not require reading glasses the first time I read all of these autobiographies. lol

    As soon as I find a good copy of "Hush Hush...I'll do a photo montage. I think it is a good choice since there is so much in it that provides for good snark. I saw another movie for the first time over the weekend from '56 called "The Bad Seed". Although I enjoyed it the movie deserves a lighter review.

  8. Oh, I want Olivia as ~my~ Sunday school teacher! Lucky kids. She is one of my favorite actresses. I was blown away with her performances in The Snake Pit and The Dark Mirror--both are excellent films.

  9. Ha Ha.. Thats great fedora! I would enjoy having Olivia teaching me anything even if it were knitting to tips on how to bake Shepard's Pie! : )

  10. Wonderful photos.

    Her former home off Mulholland was just recently sold. It's a simple white clapboard affair, looks more like a Connecticut farmhouse than a movie star's home -- but it's got the most spectacular views. I took a photo of it through a padlocked gate.

  11. Olivia wasn't married in 1939, not even close.

  12. Olivia is on record as saying that she and Errol Flynn fell in love with each other. Too sad......great couple!!!

  13. Nice try but I found a lot of errors in your assessment of the films she did under contract to Warners and those she did as a free-lancer once she ended her contract with that studio. For example, "Princess O'Rourke" was not a punishment assignment. "Government Girl" was at RKO because Selznick sold her to them for a one picture deal in return for another star's services. And that, indeed, was punishment since the script was terrible although the film managed to be a financial success. "The Dark Mirror" was not delayed in release due to her contract dispute. Only "Devotion" fits that category. It was filmed in '43 but released in '46 to capitalize on Olivia's new popularity with the release of "To Each His Own."

  14. Princess O'Rourke is actually a pretty good film though very lighthearted. Roman Holiday the movie which won Audrey Hepburn her Oscar was basically a remake of this film. While I've never heard of it actually being a punishment for her lawsuit when she was young Olivia took her career very seriously and really wanted to do meaningful roles so anything as lighthearted as this would probably have seemed like a punishment to her. The people at Warners never really recognised her talent. They seemed to have trouble seeing her as anything but a pretty face.

  15. Olivia de Hallivand is hands-down my favourite actress from Hollywood's Golden Age. She had great talent and was outstanding in everything from her swashbuckling hits with Errol Flynn (Captain Blood & Robin Hood are my favourites), to dramas like The Heiress and comedies like Princess O'Rouke, which is actually a really good film, and often unfairly overlooked in favour of Roman Holiday.

    I doubt it was a 'punishment film' as de Havilland considered it one of her few satisfying roles at Warner Bros., as she was desperate for more dramatic roles. I'd recommend it, although as it was a war-time film the over-zealous patriotism can get a tad corny at times. I'd call it one of my comfort films, along with Fredric March's Death Takes a Holiday and I Married a Witch. Enjoyable, slightly corny films you can just snuggle up and enjoy with a smile on your face!

  16. Great post..Olivia deHavilland is my all time fave actress,have seen most of her films and love the ones with her and Errol Flynn! Of course,I think Warner Bros did not give her a chance to show her talents giving her mostly period pieces mainly box office assurance for them but she proved them wrong later with her Films like To Each His Own,The Snake Pit,The Heiress and lawsuit against that studio...what a talent,and glad to know she is doing well in Paris at the wonderful age of 96! I just read the book by Robert Madtzen "Errol and Olivia"..great photos of them somehow those two seemed they were real lovers off/on screen:)