OLIVIA’S GONE WITH THE WIND
Olivia de Havilland, the last surviving A lister from the pre-WW2 period, has taken her final curtain at the venerable age of 104. De Havilland, who had been notoriously healthy for her advanced age, to the point of newspapers regularly falling for a 15 year old photo of the actress on a bike as being current news, had been ominously quiet in the past year.
Olivia de Havilland was a star, of that there is no doubt. She starred early on in films with Errol Flynn, including Captain Blood and Robin Hood, and was a staunch defender of his legacy for the rest of her life after he died aged 50. The elder of two sisters who both went into acting, that relationship was one of the big talking points of her life. Opposites attract, similar folk don’t, as they say, and Olivia and her sister, the actress Joan Fontaine, were so similar in ambition and drive and talent, and so apart in personalities that they clashed and wound up having the most infamous of Hollywood fallouts which stretched right up to Joan’s death in 2013.
On screen, de Havilland played the cousin of Scarlett O’Hara, Melanie, in famous and infamous screen classic Gone with the Wind. Whatever your view of the controversial Oscar winner is nowadays, there’s no denying the depth Olivia brought to what could have been a cypher of a character, there to provide sympathy and then die. Sorry, 80 year old spoilers there.
De Havilland went onto showcase her talents in underrated 40s noir The Dark Mirror. Here, she plays twin socialites, one of whom has murdered a man, but the other is protecting her sister, and the police try to break the alibi. The dual role allowed de Havilland to show off her multi-faceted talents, as she makes both similar looking women clearly different, living characters.
In 1946 she won the Oscar for To Each His Own, and she doubled up in 1949 with The Heiress. She was born before the Battle of the Somme and lived past the 75th anniversary of D-day. She even managed to live long enough to see Hibs win the Scottish Cup. In 2017, she was made a Dame by the Queen. Her career spanned comedy like My Cousin Rachel to horror like Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte. In recent decades she became a symbol of living history, an icon looked at more for her longevity and stance on the early age of Hollywood, rather than for her own talents, but those were considerable. She might not have been the It Girl of the times, but her determination in carving out a Jessica Lange like path in cinema history means her reputation will outlast most of the five second beauties.
Quite remarkable she made 104 given she nearly died of appendicitis in 1940. Let’s also not forget that, by suing Warner Brothers when they tried to add extra time to her contract for that near death experience, she managed to smash the studio/actor contract system, giving actors and creative types freedom to work on projects as they like, and earn as much as their merits and PR skills allowed. She was a gamechanger, and if that game brought us Tom Cruise, well, it also keeps our character actors in regular work.
She was also in The Swarm, which allows us to quote one of the greatest lines in all of films:
“I never thought it’d be the bees. They’ve always been our friends!”
The great de Havilland was picked by 93 teams, including: Worm Fodder, Dead Loss, Deathlist, Eejit, Eternity Tours, Gray Panthers, JoeRam, Mr C and Yvonne and Gone. That Yvonne again!
Olivia de Havilland
1 July 1916 – 26 July 2020