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How Old Is Olivia de Havilland? The Screen Siren, Then & Now

Entertainment | March 10, 2019

Written by Guy Cruz

Olivia de Havilland in a studio portrait circa 1935. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

There’s one screen siren left from the golden age of Hollywood. And though one should never ask it of a lady, in this case we’ll make an, exception — because you’ll never believe how old she is. Olivia de Havilland, who co-starred in numerous films with Errol Flynn, and who was billed alongside Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh on the Gone With The Wind poster, is 102 years old.

A list of the stars who shared the screen with young Olivia de Havilland reads like a who’s who of a long-gone glamorous era of Hollywood: Rita Hayworth (in The Strawberry Blonde, 1941), James Cagney (also in The Strawberry Blonde), Bette Davis (in In This Our Life, 1942 and Hush, Hush… Sweet Charlotte, 1964), Montgomery Clift (in The Heiress, 1949), Richard Burton (My Cousin Rachel, 1952), Robert Mitchum (in Not A Stranger, 1954), Frank Sinatra (also in Not A Stranger), Myrna Loy (in The Ambassador’s Daughter, 1956)… the list goes on. She even co-starred with future President Ronald Reagan in the Errol Flynn film Santa Fe Trail (1940).

Many actresses find that it is difficult to land roles once they age beyond the ingenue phase, but Olivia de Havilland was certainly not one of them. Although she established herself opposite Errol Flynn, and became best known for her role as the quiet and strong Melanie, rival to Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, she continued acting into the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, even winning a Golden Globe for her performance in the 1987 TV movie Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna. Her later films, many of them psychological thrillers, showcased her subtle, yet powerful talent. Here is how Olivia de Havilland, today a 102-year old woman, progressed as an actress from the Depression Era to the Groovy Era.

A Talented, Yet Unsupportive Family

Undated portrait of Olivia de Havilland. Source: IMDB

Olivia de Havilland was born in 1916 and, along with her younger sister, Joan Fontaine, exhibited an early talent on the stage. Her step-father, however, forbade her from acting. When she landed the lead role in her high school play, he told her she had to choose…be in the play or continue living under his roof. She chose acting. She moved in with a friend to finish high school and earned a college drama scholarship.

Olivia De Havilland And Errol Flynn

Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn in ‘Captain Blood,’ 1935. Source: (dw.com)

Although her first movie was A Midsummer Night’s Dream in early 1935, de Havilland had attracted the attention of film producers who cast her opposite heartthrob, Errol Flynn, in the first of eight films that the two would do together. Captain Blood, a swashbuckling pirate film, starring Flynn and de Havilland, was released the same year as her debut film. The chemistry between Flynn and de Havilland was obvious, and the two were cast together in seven more movies: Charge of the Light Brigade in 1936, The Adventures of Robin Hood and Four’s A Crowd both in 1838, Dodge City and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex in 1939, Santa Fe in 1940, and They Died With Their Boots On in 1941. Although the two were cast together on screen, they were never an off-screen couple.

Gone With The Wind

Olivia de Havilland with her “Gone With the Wind” co-stars, Hattie McDaniel and Vivien Leigh. De Havilland lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to McDaniel. Source: (rare.us)

While under contract with Warner Bros., de Havilland was loaned to producer David O. Selznick to appear in a supporting role in his 1939 sweeping Southern epic, Gone With the Wind. De Havilland was cast in the role of Melanie, the sweet, calm foil to the excitable Scarlett, played by Vivien Leigh. For her portrayal of Melanie, de Havilland earned her first Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actress. In a historic Oscar ceremony, de Havilland lost the award to her Gone With the Wind co-star, Hattie McDaniel, who became the first African-American performer to win an Academy Award. De Havilland was disappointed yet again when she was nominated for her second Academy Award, this one for Best Actress, for her role in the 1941 film Hold Back the Dawn. She lost out on this award to her younger sister, Joan Fontaine, who earned the honors for her starring role in Suspicion.

De Havilland Sued Warner Bros. And Was Blacklisted

Source: (variety.com)

Back in 1936, Olivia de Havilland had signed a seven-year contract with the motion picture studio, Warner Bros. When the contract was fulfilled in 1943, she was stunned to learn that the studio had tacked on an additional six months to her contract. It seemed that, when de Havilland rejected a script from the studio while she was recovering from appendix surgery, she incurred a suspension from the studio. The studio then added that time back on at the end of her contract. Although this was common practice, de Havilland was enraged. She filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. and won. The court case set a precedent for the entertainment industry and became known as de Havilland’s Law. But the victory came with a price. De Havilland was essentially blacklisted in Hollywood and did not work for a few years.

The 1940s And 1950s Were A Time Of Transition

De Haviland is a two-time Oscar winner. Source: (abcnews.go.com)

For Olivia de Havilland, the 1940s and 1950s were a time of transition as she moved away from playing naïve, innocent young women and tackled more mature roles. Her first film after leaving Warner Bros. was To Each His Own in 1945. She followed that up with My Life In Art in a role that required her to play the same character across three decades from a wide-eyed young woman to a mature businesswoman. This role finally earned de Havilland her first Oscar Award for Best Actress.

The Groovy Sixties And Psychological Thrillers

The evil side of Olivia de Havilland. Source: (villains.fandom.com)

Olivia de Havilland appeared in two psychological thrillers in 1964. The first was Lady in a Cage, in which de Havilland plays a wealthy woman trapped in an elevator in her stately home. She is tormented by a gang of thieves who are ransacking her house and threatening her. The next film was Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte alongside Bette Davis. In this movie, de Havilland played a character that hides her mean and cruel ways behind a charming and classy front. De Havilland’s final film roles came in two disaster flicks — Airport ’77 (1977) and The Swarm (1978) — and the 1979 European romp The Fifth Musketeer.

A Transition To Television And Retirement

Olivia de Havilland in “Roots: The Next Generation”. Source: (fanpop.com)

In the late 1960s, Olivia de Havilland made her first television appearance and quickly discovered that there were more acting roles for mature actresses on television than in movies. She made her first television movie in 1972 as a woman recovering from mental illness, called The Screaming Woman. She appeared as Henry Fonda’s wife, in the miniseries, Root: The Next Generation in 1979. Throughout the 1980s, her appearances became fewer and fewer, though the projects were notable: She played the Queen Mother in The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana (1982), was a part of the star-studded cast of North And South, Book II (1986), and played Dowager Empress Maria in Anastasia, The Mystery Of Anna (1986). De Havilland officially retired from acting in 1989.

Today, Olivia De Havilland Is 102!

Today, Olivia de Havilland is 102 years old! (vanity.com)

It may surprise many people to learn that Olivia de Havilland will be celebrating her 103rd birthday this summer! She currently lives in Paris. Just prior to her 101st birthday, Queen Elizabeth II honored de Havilland by appointing her Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, the oldest person ever given this honor. That means the actress is officially known as Dame Olivia de Havilland.



NEXT: The ‘Mad, Mad World’ Cast: 1963’s All-Star Game Of Comedy
 

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Jackson Hall

Jackson Hall

Jackson Hall is one of the best writers of our generation. He has been on the New York Times Bestsellers list three different times and nominated multiple time for best Memoir on Goodreads. He studied history at Yale and became obsessed with the 70s. Now he focuses on digging up stories nobody has written about to help grow our extensive knowledge of the past. He is the glue to our company and we are so lucky to have him on the team.

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