Scotty Welbourne, “Olivia de Havilland”, 1935, Publicity Shoot, Silver Gelatin Print
Born in July of 1906 in Tokyo, Japan, Olivia de Havilland was an American motion-picture star remembered both for the lovely, gentle roles of her early career and the later, more substantial roles she secured. With a cinematic career spanning from 1935 to 1988, she appeared in forty-nine feature films, becoming one of the leading actresses of her time.
Olivia de Havilland moved, along with her mother and younger sister Joan Fontaine, to California in 1919, settling in the village of Saratoga. After graduating from high school in 1934, she attended Mills College in Oakland, hoping to pursue a career as a teacher. De Havilland was chosen from the cast of a community theater production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by director Max Reinhardt to be first the understudy, and then the star of his theater production of the play.
Impressed by her performance, Reinhardt offered Olivia de Havilland the same role of Hermia in his upcoming Warner Brothers film version of the stage production. She signed a five-year contract with Warner Brothers in November of 1934, beginning her professional acting career. De Havilland appeared in many costume adventure movies with then little-known actor Errol Flynn in the 1930s and 1940s. Their first film together was the 1935 “Captain Blood”, the success of which resulted in four Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture.
De Havilland appeared in Mervyn LeRoy’s 1938 historical drama “Anthony Adverse” playing the role of peasant girl Angela opposite actor Fredric March. The film earned six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, giving de Havilland good exposure and a chance to renegotiate her contract with Warner Brothers for a seven year term with higher salary.
De Havilland worked again with Errol Flynn in the 1938 “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and the 1939 Technicolor western, her first, entitled “Dodge City”. In early 1939, De Havilland exerted her influence to get the role of Melanie Wilkes/Hamilton in the upcoming David O’Selznick film “Gone with the Wind”, giving her the opportunity to play a substantial role she understood, and resulting in her first nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Winning a precedent-setting case in 1945 against Warner Brothers Studios, Olivia de Havillland was released for a six-month penalty obligation added onto her contract. The result of extending greater creative freedom to performers enabled her to take more challenging roles. She gave an Academy Award-winning performance as an unwed mother in the 1946 “To Each His Own”, played twin sisters in the 1946 psychological thriller “The Dark Mirror”, and won an Academy Award nomination for her role as a psychiatric ward patient in the 1948 “The Snake Pit”.
Olivia de Havilland was the recipient of numerous honors: the American National Medal of Arts in 2008, an appointment as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 2010 in France, and was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2017, shorty before her 101st birthday. Olivia de Havilland passed away peacefully of natural causes on July 26, 2020, at her residence in Paris, France.
Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Olivia de havilland”, 1940, Studio Publicity Shot, Gelatin Silver Print, Warner brothers Studio
Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Olivia de havilland and Erol Flynn”, 1938, Still Shot from “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, Director Michael Curtis and William Keighley, Warner Brothers