On the Fourth of July, we celebrate America’s birthday.
But three days before that, it’s time to celebrate the birthday of an American icon: Olivia de Havilland, the last surviving principal cast member of “Gone With the Wind.”
On July 1, de Havilland will turn 101.
A Long, Successful Career
Her career has included roles in 49 feature films.
While her portrayal of Melanie in “Gone With the Wind” may be what she’s best known for, she has two Academy Awards for best actress for her work in other films: “To Each His Own” and “The Heiress.”
De Havilland has been awarded a number of state distinctions on top of her artistic awards, including National Medal of the Arts from President George W. Bush.
And just this month, de Havilland was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to drama, joining a long list of famous actresses who’ve been given the British distinction, including Julie Andres, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury and Elizabeth Taylor.
So now she’s Dame Olivia de Havilland to you.
During de Havilland’s career, her name made headlines for more than just her work on screen.
De Havilland’s younger sister, Joan Fontaine, also became an an actress. The sisters were born in Tokyo to British parents. The family moved to California in 1919, and their mother—a former stage actress—introduced both girls to acting at an early age.
It was, in part, this shared artistic pursuit that created a bitter—and well-known—rivalry between the sisters, though de Havilland has said that the feuding started in childhood. The sisters were just 15 months apart, and apparently Olivia had not been pleased to have to share her parents’ attention with Joan.
Vanity Fair called de Havilland’s feud with her sister “the most notorious sibling rivalry in Hollywood.” The gorgeous sisters achieved unprecedented success as actresses, but Fontaine had a habit of saying scathing things about de Havilland in the press (and later in a memoir called “No Bed of Roses“), and de Havilland resented having to compete with her sister for roles, awards and publicity.
In 1942, the sisters were both nominated for best actress, and Fontaine won. To this day, de Havilland and Fontaine are the only sisters to both have a best actress Academy Award. Sadly, their relationship never recovered. The two were estranged for most of their lives until Fontaine passed away in 2013.
Freshening up my evening with the glorious frostiness of Olivia de Havilland blanking Joan Fontaine at the Oscars pic.twitter.com/TrLvrYVXio
— infamy_infamy (@infamy_infamy) March 2, 2015
De Havilland was married to author Marcus Goodrich from 1946 – 1953. The pair had one son, Benjamin, who died of Hodgkin’s disease in 1992 at the age of 42. He had been battling the disease for 25 years at the time of his death.
De Havilland’s second marriage was to Pierre Galante, the executive editor of the publication Paris Match. They married in 1955 and de Havilland moved to Paris shortly after, where she still lives today.
Galante and de Havilland had a daughter, Gisele, and the couple divorced in 1979 though de Havilland cared for him before he died of cancer in 1998. Gisele
“Gone With The Wind”
The film was the highest-grossing movie of all time after its 1939 release, a distinction it held for nearly 25 years.
De Havilland was one of the biggest names attached to the movie at the time, along with Clark Gable. Vivian Leigh was a British actress who was still relatively unknown to U.S. audiences before her turn as Scarlett O’Hara.
It’s said that it took the producer, David O. Selznick, two years just to cast the film—and clearly it was worth the wait.
De Havilland’s “Gone With the Wind” co-stars might be gone, but she still treasures memories from the set of the classic film.
She told Vanity Fair that Clark Gable was hesitant to cry on camera in a scene where he blames himself for Scarlett’s miscarriage. Havilland gave him a pep talk, taking him aside to say, “You can do it and you will be wonderful.” As every fan of the movie can agree, “It worked. And he was wonderful.”
De Havilland will celebrate her 101st birthday in Paris on Saturday with her trademark style and grace, no doubt.
Happy birthday to a true Hollywood legend!