Happy birthday to Olivia de Haviliand who is celebrating her 104th birthday!! With this we also celebrate some of her iconic classic film gems: The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn, The Snake Pit, The Heiress, and To Each Their Own which garnered Olivia her first academy award. We all know her as Melanie from Gone With The Wind, but here are some tidbits you may not know about this classic film legend –
18-year-old Olivia de Havilland signed with Warner Brothers’ studios in 1934, and in 1935 the studio took a gamble by pairing a little known bit player, Errol Flynn (25) with a still unknown Olivia de Havilland in Captain Blood. This swashbuckling duo was box office gold, and would mark the first of eight movies they would star in together including: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), Dodge City (1939), Four’s a Crowd (1938), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), Santa Fe Trail (1940), and They Died with Their Boots On (1941). Both are also featured in a ninth film, Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943), although they never appeared in scenes together. Olivia was quoted as saying:
“There certainly is such a thing as screen chemistry, although I don’t believe you find it frequently. There was a definite on-screen chemistry between Errol and me… I had a very big crush on Errol Flynn during Captain Blood. I thought he was absolutely smashing for three solid years, but he never guessed. Then he had one on me, but nothing came of it. I’m not going to regret that; it could have ruined my life.……”
By 1946 Olivia had created a solid reputation for herself and accepted a role in the film, To Each Their Own, which had been turned down by Ginger Rogers. Then in 1948 she accepted the lead in The Snake Pit, also turned down by Rogers. She won an Oscar for To Each His Own and was also nominated for The Snake Pit. Ginger Rogers was said to have regretted turning down the roles and wrote: “It seemed Olivia knew a good thing when she saw it. Perhaps Olivia should thank me for such poor judgment.”
In June 2017, de Havilland sued the creators and producers, companies FX and Ryan Murphy Productions, of the series Feud: Bette and Joan (Catherine Zeta-Jones portrayed her)
“The creators of ‘Feud’ used my identity without my consent and put false words in my mouth, including having me publicly calling my sister, Joan Fontaine, a “bitch.” The show was designed to make it look as if I said these things and acted this way. I feel strongly about it because when one person’s rights can be trampled on this way, the rights of others who are more vulnerable can be abused as well. I have spent a good portion of my life defending the film industry. However, studios, which choose to chronicle the lives of real people, have a legal and moral responsibility to do so with integrity. They have a duty not to steal the value of an actor’s identity for profit. I am fortunate to be able to be the standard bearer for other celebrities, who may not be in a position to speak out for themselves under similar circumstances.”
Standing up for herself as an artist started much earlier in her career. Coming off the heels of her wild success in 1939’s Gone With The Wind, she had hoped Jack Warner would finally begin offering her more dramatic roles.
“I wanted to do complex roles, like Melanie for example, and Jack Warner saw me as an ingénue. I was really restless to portray more developed human beings. Jack never understood this, and … he would give me roles that really had no character or quality in them. I knew I wouldn’t even be effective.”
~Olivia de Havilland
She began to turn down roles, which resulted in suspensions, and after fulfilling her 7 year contract with Warner Brothers, was told that her contract had been extended for the time loss due to her suspensions. Most actors accepted this clause in their contract, while others attempted to sue Warner Brothers (namely Bette Davis in 1930 who lost). However, this time around she won in court against Warner Brothers, which stopped Jack Warner from adding suspension periods to actor’s contracts, thereby giving more freedom for actors in Hollywood. It became known as the “de Havilland decision,” and would effectively end the tight reign that film studios had had over the actors from the inception of the studios.
Actresses and academy award winners, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine are members of a very exclusive Hollywood club – they were sisters! Olivia started her acting career first and was signed with Warner Brothers when Joan expressed interest in acting to her mother. Her mother declared, “there will only be one de Havilland at Warner Brothers!” Joan decided to take her stepfather’s last name, Fontaine, and was eventually signed with new studio RKO, and then MGM. The sister’s turbulent relationship is filled with ‘she said/she said’ that fed the tabloids for decades. Were they ever close? Did career and personal jealousies tarnish their relationship? Despite biographies and autobiographies, there are too many conflicting stories to arrive at anything definitive. What we DO know is their undeniable talent that is immortalized in their extraordinary body of work.
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