Olivia de Havilland, who starred in Gone with the Wind, died in her sleep at her home in Paris on Saturday, July 25, 2020. She was 104 years old.
Havilland made her mark on Hollywood early and remained an icon for nearly 90 years. Known for playing Melanie in Gone with the Wind, de Havilland won Academy Awards for roles in To Each His Own and The Heiress.
Born in Tokyo, Japan on July 1, 1916, de Haviland moved to California during childhood. In 1933, she had her big break with a stage role as Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Hollywood Bowl, which was a role she reprised in 1935 for the film with Dick Powell and James Cagney.
She signed a seven-year contract with Warner Brothers and was soon working with frequent costar Errol Flynn. Their first movie together was Captain Blood, then the popular on-screen couple played Robin Hood and Maid Marian in 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood.
She flexed her dramatic chops a year later in the sweeping epic, Gone with the Wind, based on the book by Margaret Mitchell. As Melanie, de Havilland was gentle and kind, very dissimilar to the feisty Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh). Both ladies desired the love of Ashley Wilkes and Melanie ended up with the man while Scarlett had a fiery relationship with Rhett Butler. De Havilland was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar but lost to fellow castmate Hattie McDaniel.
De Havilland became frustrated with Warner Bros. as good parts were not as prevalent as she had hoped. Then when her contract ended in 1943, Warner Bros. claimed that she owed time due to subtraction of time while she had been suspended. De Havilland and Warner Bros. went to court in 1945, which ruled in her favor and the de Havilland rule was created, which limited contracts to seven calendar years.
She stepped away from acting to do work on radio and toured military hospitals in support of soldiers who were fighting in World War II. De Havilland returned in To Each His Own and earned her first Academy Award for Best Actress. In 1948’s The Snake Pit she played a woman sent to an insane asylum in one of the first movies to delve into mental health issues. Her second Oscar win came with The Heiress in 1949 as a woman torn between her love interest and her father.
Things started tapering off in the 1950s. A notable later role was in the psychological thriller Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte in 1965, with Bette Davis. She was in the disaster movie Airport ’77 and horror film The Swarm, then she had roles in the miniseries Roots: The Next Generations and North and South, Book II.
In 2006 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences held a tribute to de Havilland. Two years later President George W. Bush awarded her the National Medal of Arts and in 2010 French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave her the Legion of Honor award.