OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND Biography - Actors and Actresses


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Name: Olivia Mary de Havilland                                                             
Born: 1 July 1916 Tokyo, Japan                                                             
Olivia Mary de Havilland (born July 1, 1916) is a two-time Academy Award-winning           
actress. She is the sister of Academy Award winning actress Joan Fontaine.                 
De Havilland was born in Tokyo, Japan, and is the elder daughter of Walter de               
Havilland (1872-1968), a British patent attorney with a practice in Japan, and             
the former Lilian Augusta Ruse (1886-1975), an actress known by her stage name             
of Lilian Fontaine, whom he married in 1914. They divorced when Olivia was three.           
Her paternal cousin is Sir Geoffrey de Havilland (1882-1965).                               
Her younger sister is the actress Joan Fontaine (b. 1917), from whom she has               
been estranged for many decades, not speaking at all since 1975.                           
De Havilland's family moved from Tokyo when she was two years old, settling in             
Saratoga, California. She attended school at Los Gatos High School and at the               
Notre Dame Convent Catholic girls' school in Belmont, California. An acting                 
award at Los Gatos is named after her.                                                     
De Havilland's career began co-starring with Joe E. Brown in Alibi Ike in 1935.             
She appeared as Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream, her first stage production,           
at the Hollywood Bowl. The stage production was later turned into a 1935 movie.             
Although the stage cast was largely replaced with Warner Bros. contract players,           
Olivia was hired to reprise her role as Hermia. De Havilland played opposite               
Errol Flynn in such highly popular films as Captain Blood and The Charge of the             
Light Brigade (1936), and as Maid Marian to Flynn's Robin Hood in The Adventures           
of Robin Hood (1938). She starred opposite Flynn in eight films.                           
She played Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939) and was nominated for an             
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance, but Hattie                   
McDaniel, who played Mammy, received that award instead. She played the only one           
of the four main characters of Gone with the Wind to die in the film but                   
outlived all the others (Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh and Leslie Howard) in real               
In 1941, de Havilland became a naturalized citizen of the United States and was             
becoming increasingly frustrated by the roles being assigned to her. She felt               
that she had proven herself to be capable of playing more than the demure                   
ingĂ©nues and damsels in distress that were quickly typecasting her, and began to           
reject scripts that offered her this type of role. When her Warner Bros.                   
contract expired, the studio informed her that six months had been added to it             
for times she had been on suspension; the law allowed for studios to suspend               
contract players for rejecting a role and the period of suspension to be added             
to the contract period. In theory this allowed a studio to maintain indefinite             
control over an uncooperative contractee.                                                   
Most accepted this situation, while a few tried to change the system; Bette                 
Davis had mounted an unsuccessful lawsuit against Warner Bros. in the 1930s. De             
Havilland mounted a lawsuit in the 1940s, supported by the Screen Actors Guild             
and was successful, thereby reducing the power of the studios and extending                 
greater creative freedom to the performers. The decision was one of the most               
significant and far-reaching legal rulings until that time in Hollywood. Her               
courage in mounting such a challenge, and her subsequent victory, won her the               
respect and admiration of her peers, among them her sister Joan Fontaine who               
later commented, "Hollywood owes Olivia a great deal". The studio, however,                 
vowed never to hire her again. The court's ruling came to be known, and is still           
known to this day, as the "de Havilland law".                                               
Following the release of Devotion, a Hollywood biography of the BrontĂ« sisters             
filmed in 1943 but withheld from release during the suspension and litigation,             
de Havilland signed a three picture deal with Paramount Studios. The quality and           
variety of her roles began to improve. James Agee, in his review for The Dark               
Mirror (1946), noted the change, and stated that although she had always been "one         
of the prettiest women in movies", her recent performances had proven her acting           
ability. He commented that she did not possess "any remarkable talent, but her             
playing is thoughtful, quiet, detailed and well-sustained... and an undivided               
pleasure to see." She won Best Actress Academy Awards for To Each His Own (1946)           
and The Heiress (1949), and was also widely praised for her Academy Award                   
nominated performance in The Snake Pit (1948). This was one of the earliest                 
films to attempt a realistic portrayal of mental illness, and de Havilland was             
lauded for her willingness to play a role that was completely devoid of glamour             
and that confronted such controversial subject matter. She won the New York Film           
Critics Award for both The Snake Pit and The Heiress.                                       
De Havilland appeared sporadically in films after the 1950s and attributed this             
partly to the growing permissiveness of Hollywood films of the period. She was             
reported to have declined the role of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire,           
citing the unsavoury nature of some elements of the script and saying there were           
certain lines she could not allow herself to speak. The role eventually went to             
her former Gone with the Wind co-star, Vivien Leigh, who won her second Academy             
Award for her role. De Havilland continued acting on film until the late 1970s,             
afterwards continuing her career on television until the late 80s, which                   
included her winning a Golden Globe for her performance as the Dowager Empress             
Maria in the 1986 miniseries Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna.