An inside look into the life of ‘Gone With the Wind’ star Olivia de Havilland
When Olivia de Havilland passed away in 2020, Hollywood lost a great legend.
The 104-year-old actress, who won two Academy Awards for her roles in classics like Gone with the Wind and The Adventures of Robin Hood, has passed away.
During the filming of Gone With the Wind, the last surviving big star of Hollywood’s golden age gained notoriety for her wicked sense of humor, but her real life was far darker than her films.
Olivia is unparalleled in terms of her poise, self-control, physical attractiveness, mental prowess, and wit. A perfect example of a lady, she was.
De Havilland rose to prominence in the 1930s as a leading Hollywood ingénue, playing opposite Errol Flynn in several classic swashbucklers like Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood.
At the end of the decade, she played Melanie Wilkes in the classic Gone with the Wind, widely considered to be one of the best Hollywood pictures of all time and, after adjusting for inflation, remains the highest-grossing film in history.
De Havilland’s legendary portrayal as Scarlett O’Hara’s loyal best friend and confidante, which won her an Academy Award nomination, was the film’s beating heart.
In 1943, she sued Warner Bros. over the terms of her exclusive contract, seeking the right to explore roles with other studios, making this contribution to Hollywood off-screen maybe even more significant than her on-screen work.
By winning the case, she dealt a blow to the studio structure and reduced its power over actors. It was so groundbreaking that its name stuck: “The de Havilland Law.”
This also allowed de Havilland to break out of her “bright young thing” mold at Warner Bros. and into more tragic roles, for which she was rewarded with two Best Actress Oscars for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949).
Early life tragedy
She was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. In 2008, she was awarded the prestigious National Medal of Arts. In 1988, de Havilland made her final film appearance, yet she continued to be remembered as a pioneer of traditional Hollywood.
Considering her humble beginnings, Olivia de Havilland had every reason to be proud of her achievements. Her upbringing was terrible and tumultuous. Olivia de Havilland was born to British parents Lillian (née Ruse), an actress, and Walter (a patent lawyer), in Tokyo, Japan, in 1916.
Joan Fontaine, an actress, was Olivia’s younger sister; she was born in 1917. The BBC claims that the sisters’ rivalry and connection “was a constant source of speculation in the gossip columns.”
As a result of her daughters’ bronchial issues, Olivia and Joan’s mother decided to relocate the family to California in 1919. The girls’ doctor recommended moving to Saratoga, California, because of the pleasant environment there. Saratoga is located at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Lillian and Walter de Havilland’s relationship had deteriorated by this time. Olivia’s father was infamous for his extramarital affairs and eventually left the family. The father departed California 11 days after arriving there and moved back to Tokyo, where he married his Japanese housekeeper.
Warring with the stepfather
Instead, Olivia de Havilland spent her formative years living with her mother, sister, and stepfather. The mother reportedly had an extremely disciplined upbringing. Lillian expected a great deal from her young female offspring. Oliva and Joan were both restricted from leaving the house without prior authorization.
The family dynamic soured when the young de Havilland, all enormous brown eyes and long golden-brown hair, became involved in amateur theater and began starring in school plays.
She had a tense argument with her stepfather, George Milan Fontaine, because of her desire to be in the entertainment industry. He was opposed to Olivia pursuing acting and threatened to evict her if she accepted the lead role in the school production of “Pride and Prejudice.”
Olivia, however, could not be dissuaded from her dramatic pursuits.
Her strict stepfather warned her that if she ever left the house, she would never return. The teen actress left her family and hometown to pursue her acting career.
Before receiving a full scholarship to attend Mills College, Olivia stayed with friends. Now the rest is old news.
The legendary Olivia De Havilland passed away yesterday. She was 104. Olivia made a powerful impact in my life and I had the pleasure to spend some time with her in Paris. I thanked her for her bravery and shared how her choices affected me and my brother (1/6) pic.twitter.com/R9RXsrWHS9
— JARED LETO (@JaredLeto) July 26, 2020
In the midst of her dying
The death of Olivia has ripped a gaping hole in the fabric of our lives, like the removal of a vital gas.
When she passed away on July 26, 2020, she was 104 years old. According to her publicist, she passed away of natural causes at her Parisian apartment.
It wasn’t long before Hollywood celebrated the icon and her remarkable career.
Jane Seymour, who worked with the actress on a film, noted that she was “larger than life” and “a brilliant actor.”
Unexpectedly, actor Jared Leto paid tribute to de Havilland by recalling their meeting in Paris, where they talked about how the actress’s legal success had influenced Leto’s own career.
On Twitter, Leto expressed his gratitude to the actor and explained how her actions had impacted him and his sibling.
Fans have even left tributes on de Havilland’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame:
What an amazing journey through life and work. A true Hollywood icon has passed away. Tell us about your most touching Olivia de Havilland recollections in the comments below.