Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Olivia de Havilland

By studio - Flickr, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26528818

Award winning actress Dame Olivia de Havilland passed away Saturday, July 25, 2020.  She was 104 year old.  Over her career, she appeared in 49 films and was one of the leading actresses of her time.  That career spanned 74 years, up to narrating a documentary in 2009 at the age of 93, and included such well remembered films as The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn and Gone With the Wind.  de Havilland was the last surviving cast member of Gone With the Wind.  

She was also famous for her long-running feud with her sister Joan Fontaine, one that had its roots in their childhood.  This feud first came to a head in 1942, when de Havilland and Fontaine were both nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress‍—‌de Havilland for Hold Back the Dawn and Fontaine for Suspicion. When Fontaine's name was revealed as the winner, de Havilland reacted graciously, saying "We've got it!"  Fontaine rejected de Havilland's attempts to congratulate her, leaving the other offended and embarrassed.  The reverse would happen in 1947 when de Havilland accepted her first offer.  The feud would reach a fever pitch in 1975 over disagreements with their mother's cancer treatment and would continue until Fontaine's death in 2013.

She will be most remembered in Hollywood as the woman who took on the studio system and won.  Growing dissatisfied with the types of roles that she was being offered by Warner Brothers, her contracted studio, de Havilland longed for the more dramatic roles offered her in films like Gone with the Wind and Hold Back the Dawn, she began refusing certain roles offered to her.  In 1943, she announced that her seven year contract with Warner Bros. was up.  Warner Brothers responded that there was six months remaining because of her refusal on certain roles.  de Havilland decided to fight back arguing that Warner Bros. was violating labor laws.  She won in a decision that would be dubbed the de Havilland Law, making her a free agent.  It was the start of other stars breaking away and doing the same.  In short, she won where Bette Davis and James Cagney had lost before.

"She was tough and she stayed with it, and as a result she brought the studios to their knees.  Other actresses have won Academy Awards. Other stars have been as famous. But few had as far-reaching an impact as de Havilland did.”  Jeanine Bassinger, Chair of Film Studies at Wesleyan University

Rest in Peace, Olivia de Havilland

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