Olivia De Havilland, Star Of ‘Gone With the Wind,’ Dies At 104
Olivia de Havilland, the last surviving star of Gone With the Wind and the oldest remaining academy award winner, died on Sunday in Paris, where she resided for more than 60 years. She was 104.
The two-time Oscar winner starred in movies like Captain Blood,The Adventures of Robin Hood and Gone With the Wind, which is still considered to be the top money-making film of all time when adjusted for inflation. But, she is possibly best remembered for her role in dismantling the power movie studios held over actors.
In 1943, de Havilland sued Warner Bros. for the unfair contracts that kept actors from being able to pick their own roles. Under the studio system, actors who rejected a role offered to them would have time added to their contracts, as the studio argued that only work days count toward a year under the contract. The actress won the suit and changed the way actors in Hollywood were treated, even up until this day, under what is known as “the de Havilland Law.”
“Hollywood actors will forever be in Olivia’s debt,” Bette Davis later said of the actions taken by her fellow actress and friend.
De Havilland got her start as an understudy for Gloria Stuart in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. After Stuart dropped out, de Havilland appeared at the Hollywood Bowl performance and won herself a spot as Puck in the Max Reinhardt film adaption of the play in 1953, and a contract with Warner Bros. Under her contract, she was often paired with actor Errol Flynn in the late 30s, playing the demure heroine to his swashbuckling hero. The two supposedly had huge crushes on each other, but never became a couple.
Eventually, de Havilland became tired of playing her usual role as the tough yet beautiful heroine, and decided that she would go for the role of Melanie in Gone With the Wind, unlike most actresses at the time who had their hearts set on playing Scarlett O’ Hara. After discussions with the head of Warner Bros. and his wife, de Havilland was allowed to star in the Selznick International film. The actress was able to star in a different kind of role, as a “good girl,” and as someone genuinely loving.
“I think they’re more challenging,” she said of “good girl” roles in an interview later in life with The New York Times. “Because the general concept is that if you’re good, you aren’t interesting. And that concept annoys me, frankly.”
When she returned to Warner Bros. after Gone With the Wind, de Havilland found herself cast as supporting characters time and time again. She decided that she would reject any role she didn’t like, and so the studio began adding time to her contact. This is when she sued and won the right to pick her own roles. Eventually this led the actress to two Academy Awards for her roles as a woman dealing with mental illness in The Snake Pit and a torn woman looking for love in The Heiress.
The actress continued working throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, appearing in films like Light In the Piazza and Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte. She also worked on Broadway, in shows like Romeo and Juliet and Candida. And she also appeared in disaster movies and television shows like The Swarm and Roots: The Next Generations.