Today is the 98th birthday of Olivia DeHavilland, a living legend from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema. With an acting career spanning 50 years, I’ll bet she has some amazing stories to tell! This is the lucky lady who got to star opposite the dashing Errol Flynn in many movies, including The Adventures of Robin Hood and Captain Blood. Apparently they had a major crush on each other, but according to Oliva “He never had his wicked way with me.” Such a wasted opportunity!!!
Born in Tokyo, Japan in 1916, Oliva moved to Saratoga NY with her actress mother, Lillian, and sister Joan after her parents split up. She was discovered by director Max Rheinhardt when he saw her acting the part of Hernia in a school play of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. So impressed he was, that he ended up casting her in the stage and film version, which led to a seven year contract with Warner Brothers.
In 1939 Warner Brothers lent her to David Selznick to play the character of Melanie Hamilton in “Gone With the Wind. ” She was nominated for best supporting actress, but lost out to her co-star, Hattie McDaniel.
She was disappointed that she didn’t win, but not as disappointed as when she lost the best actress Oscar for her role in “Hold Back the Dawn” in 1941. That same year her sister, Joan Fontaine, won the Best Actress Oscar for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion..” Olivia and her sister always had a strained relationship filled with jealousy. Their lifelong feud was notorious in Hollywood. Allegedly Olivia resented Joan taking the slightest bit of the limelight away from her. And her mother always favored Olivia, actually telling Joan she couldn’t pursue an acting career using the De Havilland name. That’s how she ended up with Fontaine, instead. I think it’s sad that the two sisters could not get along and be happy for each other’s success. I wonder if she thinks back on it now and has any regrets.
Beside the aformentioned films, Ms. DeHavilland also starred in over 50 other movies, including The Snake Pit (1948), To Each His Own(1946) and the Heiress (1949) , the last two winning her Best Actress Oscars.
Olivia was picky about her parts and turned down many scripts, causing her to be put on suspension many times by the Warner Brothers studio .She resented the fact that the studios “owned” their actors and added the extra time of these suspensions onto the end of their already long seven year contracts, preventing them from pursuing better roles elsewhere. So she sued them in a California court and won! And in a landmark case that became known as the “De Havilland decision” her efforts forever changed the working conditions of actors and took the unlimited power away from the big Hollywood studios.
Here she is in a gown from “Gone with the Wind”, designed by costumer Walter Plunkett, known as Hollywood’s foremost authority on period dress
She accepted her first Best Actress Oscar in this gown designed by Ann Lowe.
Ann Lowe is also the woman who designed Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress.
And her second Best Actress Oscar in a gown by Orry Kelly
And one don’t usually think pin up when thinking of Olivia De Havilland.
But here she is wearing a fabulous swimsuit looking pin up perfect!
So Happy, Happy Birthday to Ms. DeHavilland, one of the most beautiful and talented entertainers of the twentieth century!
Have a glamorous day!