Nationality: American. Born: Olivia Mary de Havilland in Tokyo, Japan, to English parents, 1 July 1916; sister of the actress Joan Fontaine; became U.S. citizen, 1941. Education: Attended Notre Dame Convent, Belmont, California. Family: Married 1) Marcus Goodrich, 1946 (divorced 1953), son: Benjamin; 2) Pierre Galante, 1955 (divorced 1979), daughter: Gisele. Career: 1933—stage debut in Alice in Wonderland with Saratoga Community Players; 1934—in Max Reinhardt's Los Angeles production of A Midsummer Night's Dream , and in film version, 1935; seven-year contract with Warners; 1943–45—made no films due to legal difficulties and contract disputes with Warners but performed with USO and on radio; 1945—freed from Warners' contract in landmark court decision; two-film deal with Paramount; 1951—New York stage debut in Romeo and Juliet ; late 1950s—began living in France on semipermanent basis; late 1960s-1970s—occasional film and TV work (e.g., in mini-series Roots: The Next Generation , 1979, North and South II , 1986). Awards: Best Actress Academy Award, for To Each His Own , 1946; Best Actress, New York Film Critics, for The Snake Pit , 1948; Best Actress Academy Award, and Best Actress, New York Film Critics,
Alibi Ike (Enright) (as Dolly); The Irish in Us (Lloyd Bacon) (as Lucille Jackson); A Midsummer Night's Dream (Reinhardt and Dieterle) (as Hermia); Captain Blood (Curtiz) (as Arabella Bishop)
Anthony Adverse (LeRoy) (as Angela Guisseppi); The Charge of the Light Brigade (Curtiz) (as Elsa Campbell); A Day at Santa Anita (short)
Call It a Day (Mayo) (as Catherine Hilton); The Great Garrick (Whale) (as Germaine De Le Corbe); It's Love I'm After (Mayo) (as Marcia West)
Gold Is Where You Find It (Curtiz) (as Serena Ferris); The Adventures of Robin Hood (Curtiz and Keighley) (as Maid Marian); Four's a Crowd (Curtiz) (as Lorri Dillingwell); Hard to Get (Enright) (as Margaret Richards)
Wings of the Navy (Lloyd Bacon) (as Irene Dale); Dodge City (Curtiz) (as Abbie Irving); The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Curtiz) (as Lady Penelope Gray); Gone with the Wind (Fleming—additional scenes directed by Cukor, Wood, Menzies, and David O. Selznick) (as Melanie Hamilton)
Raffles (Wood) (as Gwen); My Love Came Back (Bernhardt) (as Amelia Cullen); Santa Fe Trail (Curtiz) (as Kit Carson Halliday)
The Strawberry Blonde (Walsh) (as Amy Lind); Hold Back the Dawn (Leisen) (as Emmy Brown); They Died with Their Boots On (Walsh) (as Elizabeth Brown Custer)
The Male Animal (Nugent) (as Ellen Turner); In This Our Life (Huston) (as Roy Timberlake)
Thank Your Lucky Stars (David Butler) (as herself); Princess O'Rourke (Krasna) (as Maria); Government Girl (Dudley Nichols) (as Smokey)
The Well-Groomed Bride (Lanfield) (as Margie); To Each His Own (Leisen) (as Josephine Norris); Devotion (Bernhardt) (as Charlotte Brontë); The Dark Mirror (Siodmak) (as Terry Collins/Ruth Collins)
The Snake Pit (Litvak) (as Virginia Cunningham)
The Heiress (Wyler) (as Catherine Sloper)
My Cousin Rachel (Koster) (as Rachel)
That Lady (Terence Young) (as Ana de Mendoza); Not as a Stranger (Kramer) (as Kristina Hedvigson)
The Ambassador's Daughter (Krasna) (as Joan)
The Proud Rebel (Curtiz) (as Linnett Moore)
Libel (Asquith) (as Lady Maggie Loddon)
Light in the Piazza (Guy Green) (as Margaret Johnson)
Lady in a Cage (Grauman) (as Mrs. Hilyard); Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte (Aldrich) (as Miriam Deering)
The Adventurers (Lewis Gilbert) (as Deborah Hadley)
The Screaming Woman (Smight—for TV) (as Laura Wynant); Pope Joan (Michael Anderson) (as Mother Superior)
Airport '77 (Jameson) (as Emily Livingston); Behind the Iron Mask ( The Fifth Musketeer ) (Annakin) (as Queen Anne)
The Swarm (Irwin Allen) (as Maureen)
Murder Is Easy (Whatham—for TV) (as Honoria Waynflete); The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana (Levin—for TV) (as the Queen Mother)
Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (Chomsky—for TV) (as Dowager Emperess Maria)
The Woman He Loved (Jarrott—for TV) (as Bessie Merryman)
Every Frenchman Has One , New York, 1962.
"Dream That Never Died," in Look (New York), 12 December 1967.
"Olivia de Havilland Seminar," interview in Dialogue on Film (Beverly Hills), December 1974.
Interview in Classic Images (Indiana, Pennsylvania), March 1983.
Parish, James, and Don Stanke, The Leading Ladies , New Rochelle, New York, 1971.
Memo from: David O. Selznick , edited by Rudy Behlmer, New York, 1972.
Flamini, Roland, Scarlett, Rhett, and a Cast of Thousands: The Filming of Gone with the Wind, New York, 1975.
Thomas, Tony, The Films of Olivia de Havilland , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1983.
Higham, Charles, Sisters: The Story of Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine , New York, 1984.
Doyle, Neil, "Olivia de Havilland," in Films in Review (New York), February 1962; also April 1982.
Current Biography 1966 , New York, 1966.
Shipman, David, in The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years , rev. ed., London, 1979.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 27 August 1981.
Niderost, E., "Olivia de Havilland—The Bright-Eyed Ingenue Who Became a Star," in Classic Images , (Muscatine, Iowa) November 1992.
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Almost immediately after making her screen debut, Olivia de Havilland was established as a popular actress through her presence in Captain Blood . The film's pairing of de Havilland and Errol Flynn was a great success, and Warner Brothers, during the next six years, reteamed the two in seven films. Although these films gave de Havilland a leading lady status, her function was essentially that of supporting and adoring the male. The function was carried over into Gone with the Wind , yet this key role gave her at last an opportunity to display her potential as a skillful actress. The assignment was particularly challenging in that Melanie, in contrast to Scarlett O'Hara, is bland and two-dimensional; yet, arguably, de Havilland's performance is superior to Vivien Leigh's in conception, modulation, and emotional resonance, convincingly communicating the strength beneath Melanie's shy and timid outer self.
The characterization, in addition to establishing de Havilland as a major actress, also, to an extent, gave shape to her 1940s screen persona. During the decade, two of de Havilland's most highly regarded performances are built around seemingly simple women who, unexpectedly, prove to be compelling presences when engaged in emotional interaction. Structurally, both Hold Back the Dawn and The Heiress are centered on narratives in which physically plain and unimaginative women are courted by handsome men who have no interest in what they have to offer—sincerity and virtuousness. De Havilland imparts a forcefulness to the characterizations by making the women self-conscious about their ordinariness so that the characters' emotional vulnerability become a crucial factor in these portrayals. In The Heiress in particular, the effectiveness of de Havilland's performance hinges on the emotional exploitation she willingly submits to and her ultimate response to it.
Essentially, the same persona is the basis of de Havilland's characterization in the less caustic To Each His Own in which she enacts various stages in the life of a woman who must deny herself the fulfillment of motherhood because her child was illegitimate. While the film's flashbacks allow de Havilland a greater range (glamour, sophistication) than the above-mentioned films, in the present-day sequences she has a severe physical plainness and projects an intense emotionalism which is held in check through sheer will power.
During the 1940s de Havilland gave two other notable performances in films that can be seen as functioning as implicit commentary on her filmic persona. In The Dark Mirror de Havilland plays identical twins who are opposing embodiments of "good" and "evil." The film, in effect, splits the character she plays to expose the end result of the oppressions and repressions the de Havilland persona, in part, represents. In the follow-up film, The Snake Pit , she is cast as another ordinary woman who undergoes a mental breakdown because she is not able to fully express her identity.
At the height of her powers, de Havilland seemed to have lost the fighting spirit that enabled her to bring the dreaded seven-year studio contract system to its knees, a court battle previously lost by the redoubtable Bette Davis. Prissily concerned with her star image like Melanie guarding Southern traditions in Gone with the Wind , de Havilland rejected the chance to play Blanche Dubois. Considering her icy brilliance in The Snake Pit , it is interesting to contemplate what dimensions she would have brought to the most challenging role ever written for an actress. Throughout the fifties, she tackled Broadway to a lukewarm reception ( Romeo and Juliet , Candida ) and worked less frequently on-screen—hypnotically ambiguous in My Cousin Rachel and authoritatively embodying pioneer spirit in Proud Rebel , but ludicrously sporting an eye patch and saccharine airs for the period costumer, That Lady , and ladling on a thick Swedish meatball accent for Not as a Stranger . Almost all the rest is disappointing with de Havilland making great lady appearances rather than flexing her acting muscles (on televised awards ceremonies, she gushes as if impressed with her own place in film history). If she mainly played it safe as part of all-star disaster ensembles ( The Swarm , Airport '77 ), her latter-day career is marked with two striking returns to form. In an ABC-TV Stage 67 production of Katherine Anne Porter's Noon Wine , de Havilland is gravely beautiful as a careworn Texas landowner. Although she had to be coaxed to star after Bette Davis drove rival Joan Crawford to nervous illness while shooting Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte , de Havilland is superb in that juicy Southern Gothic hysteria. Counterbalancing Davis's campy splendor, she builds suspense by undermining her pristine screen image for a change. Whereas Crawford would have telegraphed her duplicity, de Havilland sneaks up on the audience with betrayal up her sleeve. This film demonstrates that de Havilland could have pursued acting in a more complex vein if she had not preferred typecasting herself as the good twin from The Dark Mirror .
—Richard Lippe, updated by Robert Pardi