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Olivia de Havilland Turns 99: 2-Time Oscar Winner Made Labor Law History

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Olivia de Havilland
Olivia de HavillandGone with the Wind co-star, two-time Oscar winner, and Labor-relations history-maker.

Labor relations’ history-making Gone with the Wind star and two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland turns 99

Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

Two-time Best Actress Academy Award winner Olivia de Havilland, the only surviving major Gone with the Wind cast member and oldest surviving Oscar winner, is turning 99 years old today, July 1.[1] Also known for her widely publicized feud with sister Joan Fontaine and for her eight movies with Errol Flynn, de Havilland should be remembered as well for having made Hollywood history.

This particular history is unrelated to de Havilland’s films, her two Oscars, Gone with the Wind, Joan Fontaine, and Errol Flynn. Instead, Hollywood – and U.S. labor – history was made as a result of a legal fight: after winning a lawsuit against Warner Bros. in the mid-’40s, Olivia de Havilland put an end to treacherous contractual agreements that allowed Hollywood studios and independent moguls to continuously extend their grip on their contract talent.

Below and in a follow-up post is a brief overview of de Havilland’s career and her role in changing both California labor law and Hollywood history.

Japanese-born Englishwoman

Born on July 1, 1916, to English parents living in Japan, Olivia de Havilland became a Warners leading lady in 1935. That year, in addition to run-of-the-mill fare such as the Joe E. Brown comedy Alibi Ike and the James Cagney-Pat O’Brien programmer The Irish in Us, de Havilland was cast in two Best Picture Academy Award nominees:

  • Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle’s sumptuous A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  • Michael Curtiz’s period adventure Captain Blood, a box office hit and her first pairing with Errol Flynn.

In the ensuing years, de Havilland and Flynn would be paired up again in classics and near-classics such as The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and Dodge City (1939) – and in a dud here and there as well (The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, They Died with Their Boots On).[2]

On her own, de Havilland would be cast in both comedies and dramas, generally as the decorative love interest to Warners’ male stars (or leading men) such as Leslie Howard, George Brent, and Dick Powell.[3]

Olivia de Havilland Gone with the Wind
Olivia de Havilland in ‘Gone with the Wind,’ as Melanie Wilkes.

Olivia de Havilland Oscar nominations

In 1939, Olivia de Havilland was finally given the chance to prove herself more than a pretty face with a sweet smile: on loan-out to David O. Selznick and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, her performance as Melanie Wilkes in Victor Fleming’s blockbuster Gone with the Wind earned her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.[4]

Two years later, on loan to Paramount, de Havilland was a Best Actress contender for Mitchell Leisen’s romantic melodrama Hold Back the Dawn (1941), in which she plays a naive, small-town American who falls for Romanian émigré Charles Boyer. Ironically, de Havilland’s younger sister, Joan Fontaine, with she was not in good terms, was that year’s winner for Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Suspicion.[5]

Thanks to the mix of box office success, critical acclaim, and increasing prestige, by the early ’40s Olivia de Havilland had become one of Warner Bros.’ most important contract players. Yet, with the exception of John Huston’s unbridled melodrama In This Our Life, Jack Warner’s studio continued to cast de Havilland in insipid, decorative roles.[6]

Meatier female parts went to Bette Davis – between 1938–1944, Davis received five Best Actress Oscar nominations, including one win, for her WB films.[7] Other top roles went to stars on loan from other studios (e.g., Selznick contract player Ingrid Bergman was cast in Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca); freelancers or semi-freelancers (e.g., Barbara Stanwyck was cast in Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe, for which de Havilland reportedly tested); or to Warners’ own second-rank Bette Davis, Ida Lupino.

“Olivia de Havilland Turns 99: Two-Time Best Actress Oscar Winner Made Labor Law History” follow-up post: “Olivia de Havilland vs. Warner Bros.: Landmark Lawsuit.”

This Olivia de Havilland article is currently being revised and expanded.

‘Olivia de Havilland Turns 99: Warner Bros. Legal Fight Changed California Labor Law’ notes

[1] Following the recent deaths of Luise Rainer and Mickey Rooney, Olivia de Havilland is now the only adult Hollywood star of the 1930s – name above the title in A productions – still around.

Jane Withers was a child star, while Mary Carlisle, Marsha Hunt, Patricia Morison, and Maureen O’Hara were mid-level-to-minor leading ladies. Of course, Hunt and O’Hara – and to a lesser extent Morison – would become bigger movie names the following decade.

Among international stars, de Havilland’s two fellow ’30s survivors are both from France – where, coincidentally, de Havilland lives: Danielle Darrieux and Michèle Morgan.

See also: “Movie Stars of the 1930s Still Alive.”

Surviving ‘Gone with the Wind’ cast members

Following the deaths of Mary Anderson and Alicia Rhett in 2014, besides Olivia de Havilland the only other surviving Gone with the Wind cast member is Mickey Kuhn, 82, who played Melanie’s son, Beau Wilkes.

Including uncredited (and unconfirmed) bits, online sources claim the oldest surviving Gone with the Wind cast member is Shep Houghton, who is supposed to have turned 101 last June 4.

Olivia de Havilland Errol Flynn The Charge of the Light Brigade
Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn in ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade.’

Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn movies

[2] Below is a list of the eight films starring Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn. All of them were Warner Bros. releases and all but the last one were directed (or co-directed) by Michael Curtiz.

  • Captain Blood (1935).
    Director: Michael Curtiz.
    Cast: Errol Flynn. Olivia de Havilland. Lionel Atwill. Basil Rathbone. Ross Alexander. Guy Kibbee. Donald Meek. Henry Stephenson.
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936).
    Director: Michael Curtiz.
    Cast: Errol Flynn. Olivia de Havilland. Patric Knowles. Henry Stephenson. Nigel Bruce. Donald Crisp. David Niven. C. Henry Gordon. Spring Byington. E.E. Clive. J. Carrol Naish.
  • Four’s a Crowd (1938).
    Director: Michael Curtiz.
    Cast: Errol Flynn. Olivia de Havilland. Rosalind Russell. Patric Knowles. Walter Connolly. Hugh Herbert. Melville Cooper. Franklin Pangborn. Herman Bing. Margaret Hamilton.
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).
    Director: Michael Curtiz. William Keighley.
    Cast: Errol Flynn. Olivia de Havilland. Basil Rathbone. Claude Rains. Alan Hale. Patric Knowles. Eugene Pallette. Melville Cooper. Ian Hunter. Una O’Connor.
  • The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939).
    Director: Michael Curtiz.
    Cast: Errol Flynn. Bette Davis. Olivia de Havilland. Donald Crisp. Alan Hale. Vincent Price. Henry Stephenson. Henry Daniell. James Stephenson. Nanette Fabray (as Nanette Fabares). Ralph Forbes. Robert Warwick. Leo G. Carroll.
  • Dodge City (1939).
    Director: Michael Curtiz.
    Cast: Errol Flynn. Olivia de Havilland. Ann Sheridan. Bruce Cabot. Frank McHugh. Alan Hale. John Litel. Henry Travers. Henry O’Neil. Victor Jory. William Lundigan. Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams. Bobs Watson. Gloria Holden. Ward Bond. Cora Witherspoon.
  • Santa Fe Trail (1940).
    Director: Michael Curtiz.
    Cast: Errol Flynn. Olivia de Havilland. Raymond Massey. Ronald Reagan. Alan Hale. William Lundigan. Van Heflin. Gene Reynolds. Henry O’Neill. Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams. Alan Baxter. John Litel. Moroni Olsen.
  • They Died with Their Boots On (1941).
    Director: Raoul Walsh.
    Cast: Errol Flynn. Olivia de Havilland. Arthur Kennedy. Charley Grapewin. Gene Lockhart. Anthony Quinn. Stanley Ridges. John Litel. Walter Hampden. Sydney Greenstreet. Regis Toomey. Hattie McDaniel.
Olivia de Havilland colorOlivia de Havilland color.

Olivia de Havilland movies of the ’30s

[3] Excluding her pairings with Errol Flynn and the titles mentioned in the main text, below is the list of Olivia de Havilland movies of the mid-to-late ’30s, in addition to her respective leading men and directors.

  • Anthony Adverse (1936).
    Director: Mervyn LeRoy.
    Cast: Fredric March. Olivia de Havilland. Claude Rains. Gale Sondergaard. Donald Woods. Edmund Gwenn. Anita Louise. Louis Hayward.
  • Call It a Day (1937).
    Director: Archie Mayo.
    Cast: Olivia de Havilland. Ian Hunter. Anita Louise. Alice Brady. Roland Young. Frieda Inescort. Bonita Granville. Peggy Wood.
  • It’s Love I’m After (1937).
    Director: Archie Mayo.
    Cast: Leslie Howard. Bette Davis. Olivia de Havilland. Patric Knowles. Eric Blore. Bonita Granville. Spring Byington.
  • The Great Garrick (1937).
    Director: James Whale.
    Cast: Brian Aherne. Olivia de Havilland. Edward Everett Horton. Melville Cooper. Lionel Atwill. Luis Alberni. Lana Turner. Marie Wilson. Etienne Girardot.
  • Gold Is Where You Find It (1938).
    Director: Michael Curtiz.
    Cast: George Brent. Olivia de Havilland. Claude Rains. Margaret Lindsay. John Litel. Tim Holt. Barton MacLane. Sidney Toler.
  • Hard to Get (1938).
    Director: Ray Enright.
    Cast: Dick Powell. Olivia de Havilland. Charles Winninger. Allen Jenkins. Bonita Granville. Isabel Jeans. Melville Cooper. Penny Singleton. Grady Sutton. Thurston Hall. John Ridgely.
  • Wings of the Navy (1939).
    Director: Lloyd Bacon.
    Cast: George Brent. Olivia de Havilland. John Payne. Frank McHugh. John Litel. Victor Jory. Henry O’Neill. John Ridgely. Regis Toomey.
  • Raffles (1939).
    Director: Sam Wood.
    Cast: David Niven. Olivia de Havilland. Dame May Whitty. Dudley Digges. Douglas Walton. E.E. Clive. Lionel Pape. Peter Godfrey. Margaret Seddon. Gilbert Emery.

Best Supporting Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel

[4] The Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner of 1939 was Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy in Gone with the Wind.

The other nominees were:

Best Actress Oscar nominees of 1941

[5] Besides sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, the other 1941 Best Actress Oscar nominees were:

To date, the only other sisters vying for the Best Actress Oscar in the same year were Lynn Redgrave and Vanessa Redgrave at the 1967 Oscar ceremony; the former for Silvio Narizzano’s Georgy Girl, the latter for Karel Reisz’s Morgan!.

Both lost to Elizabeth Taylor for Mike NicholsWho’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Earliest surviving Oscar nominees

Also of note, Olivia de Havilland is the earliest surviving Academy Award nominee and winner in the acting categories.

Also in the acting categories, de Havilland is the only surviving Oscar nominee of the 1930s, and one of only four surviving nominees of the 1940s.

Below is the list of surviving pre-1960 Oscar nominees in the acting categories (as of early July 2015).

* Denotes performers who also received Oscar nominations in 1960 or later.

  • Shirley MacLaine for The Apartment, 1960; Irma La Douce, 1963; and The Turning Point, 1977. She won for Terms of Endearment, 1983.
  • Angela Lansbury for The Manchurian Candidate, 1962.
  • Leslie Caron for The L-Shaped Room, 1963.
  • Sidney Poitier won for Lilies of the Field, 1963.
  • Joanne Woodward for Rachel, Rachel, 1968; Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams, 1973; Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, 1990.
  • Lee Grant for The Landlord, 1970; and Voyage of the Damned, 1976. She won for Shampoo, 1975.

Also of note, 1952 Best Supporting Actress nominee Colette Marchand – for John Huston’s Moulin Rouge – died at age 90 last June 5.

Olivia de Havilland publicity images via Doctor Macro.

Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn in The Charge of the Light Brigade: Warner Bros.

Olivia de Havilland as Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

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Andre -


Re: “My Cousin Rachel.” I meant it was not a box-office success for Olivia de Havilland (who, tellingly, didn’t receive a Best Actress Oscar nomination despite a strong campaign, as per “Inside Oscar.”)

Check out this May 7, 1953, memo from 20th Century Fox head Darryl Zanuck to Philip Dunne:

“Many excellent pictures have been defeated by unsatisfactory or unpopular subject matter. In this regard we have had our own bitter experience with pictures like “Viva Zapata!” “My Cousin Rachel”…”
From Rudy Behlmer’s “Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years at Twentieth Century-Fox.”

And I wasn’t “belittling” Olivia de Havilland’s late ’50s/early ’60s films. Just stating the fact that they didn’t cause much of a stir either at the box office or with critics / awards groups.

Chuckie888 -

I’m not sure you could say that HUSH..HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE had no impact other than being a box office hit.

The film was nominated for 7 Oscars, more than any other film of the horror genre up until that time. And even today, the title is sometimes used as a metaphor for small town scandal.

rship19 -

ALSO: Please bear in mind her role as John Ireland’s wife ‘The Adventurers’ (1970?).

Scott -

On the contrary, “My Cousin Rachel” was an excellent version of the Daphne DuMaurier best-seller and de Havilland and Burton were fine in the leads. The NY Times said: “Olivia de Havilland does a dandy job as the soft and gracious Rachel with just a faint touch of the viper’s tongue,” and she was nominated for a Golden Globe Best Actress. Burton received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and the film itself received four Academy Award noms. A great score by Franz Waxman is now available on CD.

And I wouldn’t belittle films like “The Proud Rebel” r “Light in the Piazza,” both sensitive films which drew highly respectable reviews. Her best performances during the latter part of her career were “Lady in a Cage” and “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” as you’ve indicated.

The stage work in the ’60s (“A Gift of Time” with Henry Fonda) and her best-seller “Every Frenchman Has One,” were among other accomplishments. Olivia has so many sterling films on her resume that it seems pointless to make her later films seem so worthless by comparison.

Trippy Trellis -

The best performance of all time by an actress: Olivia de Havilland in “The Heiress”/ Vivien Leigh in “A Streetcar Named Desire”.


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