Celebrating Seniors - Olivia de Havilland turns 99 - Pt 1/2

Multiple Academy Award-winning (and five-time nominee) silver screen actress Olivia de Havilland was born July 1, 1916 in Tokyo, Japan to her mother Lillian and British father Walter de Havilland. Below, Olivia de Havilland in full Civil-War era regalia, emodifying the sweet-as-sugar Melanie in a scene from Gone With The Wind (1939).

olivia de havilland, actress, movies, gone with the wind, 1939, melanie(Photo: YouTube | Gone With the Wind 1939 | Monique classique)

Olivia de Havilland's younger sister Joan was born in 1917; en route back to England by way of California in 1919, Joan fell ill and Lillian stayed on with the girls in California, while Walter de Havilland returned to Japan. The family and the marriage were not particularly happy. Walter was unfaithful (before they ever left Japan) and in 1925 after being separated for 6 years, they divorced; he would later marry their former Japanese housekeeper whom he'd been having an affair with. Lillian remarried to George Fontaine, who was very strict. According to Joan Fontaine, Lillian favoured Olivia; the girls were competitive with each other for the rest of their lives.

Olivia de Havilland was "discovered" and signed to a 7 year contract with Warner Bros. when she was only 18, fresh from a role as Hermia in a stage play of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Her first movie role was as Hermia in the film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935). 

Seniors might recall seeing Olivia de Havilland on the big screen in 1935's swashbuckler Captain Blood (1935) opposite actor Errol Flynn in the movie trailer above. Captain Blood was only the first of 8 times they starred together in movies. Although their on-screen chemistry was evident and they both later confessed in interviews (hers) and autobiographies (Errol Flynn's My Wicked, Wicked Ways) to having "crushes" on each other, according to de Havilland the relationship was never consummated. 

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Although Olivia de Havilland was often found in romantic comedies throughout the 1930's and 40's, she is best remembered by baby boomers (via television re-runs) and seniors alike for her Academy Award nominations in dramatic roles - as too-good Melanie in Gone With the Wind (1940) (photo right:, naive teacher Emmy in Hold Back the Dawn (1941), unmarried mother Jody in To Each His Own (1946), mental patient Virginia in The Snake Pit (1948), and naive Catherine in The Heiress (1949).

Her performance in The Snake Pit won much critical acclaim and award nominations (and was de Havilland's professed favourite role). Despite this, she only won the Academy Award for Best Actress twice - for To Each His Own and The Heiress.

Olivia de Havilland had lifelong friendships with actresses Bette Davis and Gloria Stuart. Olivia first met Gloria Stuart when she was understudying Stuart for her role as Hermia in the stage play of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1934; today Gloria is likely best known from her role as 100-year-old Rose Dawson in 1997's Titanic. Olivia de Havilland and Gloria Stuart were friends until Gloria died a centenarian in real life, at age 100 in 2010.

Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland starred in 4 movies together, from 1937's It's Love I'm After, to Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte in 1964; Bette Davis died in 1989. Below, Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis on This is Your Life in 1971.

Joan Fontaine and Olivia's sisterly relationship, never good, was strained further when millionaire producer Howard Hughes dated (and according to various reports, proposed) to both girls at the same time. Neither sister would marry Howard Hughes, who is reported to have proposed to a lot of women.

Olivia de Havilland's 1942 Academy Award for Best Actress nomination for Hold Back the Dawn was scuppered by her sister Joan Fontaine's win, for Suspicion. Their always-competitive sisterly relationship was strained for many years, until finally it broke down completely in 1975 over disagreements about their mother Lillian's cancer treatments and subsequent death. Olivia De Havilland secretly stayed in touch with Joan Fontaine's daughter Deborah despite the rift with her sister. Below, Olivia's sister Joan Fontaine talked to CBC about their relationship in 1979.

Below, Olivia de Havilland (in red) and sister Joan Fontaine circa 1940's on the left, and in the late 1960s on the right. Both photographs demonstrate not only their sisterly resemblance, but their fashion sense and perhaps more importantly, the appearance of sisterly love.

olivia de havilland, sister, joan fontaine, movie actresses, younger, older(Photo Sources:  | Photo Montage: Senior City

More Olivia de Havilland:

Celebrating Seniors - Olivia de Havilland turns 99 - Pt 2/2

Olivia de Havilland's 100th Birthday


Anita Hamilton

Baby boomer Anita Hamilton has always been interested in the "real people" stories behind the characters that create and inhabit the world of music, books, movies, television shows, current events, history, etc. A lifelong love of research (ok, nosiness) and writing, combined with a loving and supportive family and 3 mini-dachshund minions, keeps her busy.


edward malillo

I don't want to lend this to gossip. I simply wanted to send a birthday message to Dame Olivia De Havilland.
Everone's favorite movie, outside of an idiot, is Gone With The Wind.
I was a nerd, an outcast, in the nineteen-sixties.
Testimony to me, I read and finished the book on the cliffs of New Jersey when I was fifteen, playing hookey from school, where I did not fit in.
The characters were to me as real as personal friends.
And when Melanie died I felt as though a close personal family member had died. I went into mourning for weeks, literally. No one, no family member dared come near me, they didn't dare.

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