OLIVIA MARY DE HAVILLAND was born on the first of July 1916 to
Walter Augustus de Havilland and his wife, Lillian Augusta Ruse, in Tokyo,
Japan where her father was working as an
English patent attorney.
Her younger sister Joan was born
fifteen months later. In 1919, Lillian and Walter separated, and
Lillian brought Olivia and Joan to
Saratoga, California, where in 1925 she married George M. Fontaine, a
department store owner.
Growing up in California, Olivia attended Los
Gatos Union High School where she lettered in field hockey, and also
participated in debate, the dramatic club, and the yearbook staff.
In 1933, Olivia made her stage debut in the title role of the Saratoga
Community Players production of "Alice in Wonderland," and the
following summer after she graduated from high school, she was cast as
Puck in their production of William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer
Night's Dream.". Having earned a scholarship to nearby Mills
College, Olivia originally planned to study English and become a teacher,
but a talent scout for director Max Reinhardt caught her performance as
Puck and convinced her to join his pageant production of the play
(understudying the role of Hermia) later that summer at the Hollywood
Bowl. When Gloria Stuart dropped out of the production, Olivia went
on as Hermia and was later chosen by
Bros. to play the role in their film adaptation of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (1935),
also to be directed by Reinhardt. Olivia then gave up going to college and
signed a seven-year contract with the studio.
De Havilland with her younger sister,
Fontaine, after the Academy Awards ceremony of 1942, when Olivia was
nominated as Best Actress for her role in HOLD BACK THE DAWN, but
Joan won the Oscar for SUSPICION. The ill feeling between the two
sisters has long been a Hollywood gossip topic.
At only nineteen, many of Olivia's early roles were that of a sweet-tempered beauty opposite
the gallant Errol Flynn in various costume adventure movies such as
BLOOD (1935), THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (1936),
OF ROBIN HOOD (1938) and THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (1941). In total,
the pair appeared in nine films together between 1935 and 1943. Most of
these films were box-office successes but did little to further de Havilland's
career as an actress instead of a clothes horse.
first serious role came in 1939 when she was loaned out to
O. Selznick to play the angelic Melanie Wilkes alongside
Gable and Leslie Howard
in the epic Best Picture of the year, GONE
WITH THE WIND. Though she did not take the prize, de Havilland
received her first Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress
for this role. (She lost to co-star Hattie
McDaniel.) Following her return to
Bros., de Havilland was disappointed to find that her stock had not
risen with the studio, and she was not offered more substantial,
non-decorative roles. She appeared with Bette
Davis and Flynn in
PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX (1939), but it wasn't until
borrowed her to appear in HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941) that de Havilland was
again challenged to put her talents to use and earned a second Oscar
nomination, this time in the Best Actress category. When better
roles still did not follow at her home studio, de Havilland began to
refuse parts and was frequently put on suspension.
After notable performances in THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE
(1941), IN THIS OUR LIFE (1942) and PRINCESS O'ROURKE (1943), de Havilland
announced that her seven years with
Bros. had expired, but the studio claimed it had the right to append
her six months of suspension time to the end of her contract. In
1943, de Havilland sued the studio for release from the contract, and
after an 18 month court battle during which she was not permitted to make
any films, in December 1945 she finally won. The court's decision in her
favor marked a major victory for actors' rights in the studio system era.
De Havilland spent much of her court battle time "in exile"
from Hollywood, entertaining servicemen in hospitals on USO-sponsored tours
in the United States, the Aleutians, and the South Pacific. Once her
court battle was over, de Havilland returned to Hollywood and began
free-lancing. Free to chose more challenging roles, she scored a
huge success as an unwed mother in TO EACH HIS OWN (1946) and earned her first Best Actress
Oscar for the effort. She received her fourth Academy Award
nomination for her performance as a mental patient
in THE SNAKE PIT (1948), and took home her second Oscar for her role as a spinster
wooed for her money in William Wyler's
THE HEIRESS (1949).
In 1946, while performing in a summer stock production of
"What Every Woman Knows" in Westport, Connecticut, de Havilland
renewed an acquaintance with novelist Marcus Aurelius Goodrich (who was 18 years
her senior), and the two were married on August 26. In 1949, after
completing filming for THE HEIRESS, de Havilland gave birth to a son, Benjamin
Briggs, and left the big screen for a time. Among her stage
appearances over the next few years were a limited engagement in "Romeo and
Juliet" on Broadway in 1951, and a transcontinental tour in the title
role of George Bernard Shaw's "Candida" in 1952.
A photograph of Ms. de Havilland in 1999.
Beginning in 1952 with MY COUSIN RACHEL, de Havilland continued to appear in
films throughout the 1950s,
although much less frequently than in the 1930s and 1940s. She and Goodrich were divorced in 1953, but two years later she moved to France and
married French magazine editor Pierre Galante with whom she had a daughter,
Gisele, in 1956.
In 1962 de Havilland published
a delightful book called Every Frenchman Has One about her
difficulties and adventures adjusting to life in France, and that same year she
returned to the big screen after a three year absence, as the mother of a
mentally retarded girl who wants to get married in LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA.
Also in 1962, de Havilland achieved the greatest stage success of her career
when she appeared opposite Henry
Fonda in the New York production of Garson Kanin's "The Gift of
Time," a play about a woman caring for her husband who is terminally ill with
cancer. De Havilland's role as Miriam
in HUSH... HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964) with Bette
Davis and Joseph Cotten
was one of her more significant film roles of this later period, as was LADY IN
A CAGE (1964), a controversial film about a woman trapped in an elevator who is
tormented to the verge of insanity. The film received harsh criticism in
the United States and was actually banned in England for its excessive violence.
Ms. de Havilland received a standing ovation when she appeared
at the 75th Annual Academy Awards in 2003 to introduce the show's Previous Oscar
Winners Reunion segment.
the 1970s and 1980s, de Havilland continued to appear sporadically in pictures,
made-for-TV movies and a few mini-series. She played
Fonda's wife, Mrs. Warner, in the "Roots: The Next Generations"
mini-series of 1979, the Queen Mother in
"The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana" for CBS in 1982, and in 1986
earned an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe Award for her portrayal of the
Dowager Empress in "Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna." She has not played a role
for television since 1988 however.
After several years of legal separation, de Havilland and her second husband,
were divorced in 1979, yet after he was diagnosed with cancer, she cared for him until his death
in 1998. In 1991, de Havilland's son, Benjamin Goodrich, a statistical
analyst, died of complications from Hodgkin's disease at his mother's home in
France. De Havilland herself still resides in Paris where she is working on her autobiography.
In 2003, she appeared on the 75th Annual Academy Awards during a segment of the
telecast honoring previous Oscar winners.