Olivia Mary de Havilland (born July 1, 1916 in Tokyo, Japan), is a
US film actress.
She is the daughter of British parents, patent attorney Walter de Havilland, and actress Lillian Fontaine.
Her sister is the actress Joan Fontaine (born 1917), from whom she is famously estranged.
De Havilland's career began
in Alibi Ike in 1935. She appeared as Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), and played opposite Errol Flynn in such
highly popular films as Captain Blood and The Charge of the Light Brigade (both 1936), and as Maid Marian to Flynn's Robin
Hood in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). She played Melanie Wilkes in Gone With The Wind (1939) and received an Academy
Award for Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance.
De Havilland and her sister Fontaine, were each nominated
for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1942. Fontaine won for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941) over de Havilland's
nomination for Hold Back the Dawn (1941). Biographer Charles Higham has described the events of the award ceremony, stating
that as Fontaine stepped forward to collect her award, she had pointedly rejected de Havilland's attempts at congratulating
her, and that de Havilland was both offended and embarrassed by her behavior. He records that the sisters had an uneasy relationship,
and though each has refused to comment, Higham has stated that this event was the catalyst for what would become a lifelong
fued. The sisters have remained estranged since this time.
Also by this time De Havilland 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 ingenues and damsels in distress that were quickly typecasting her, and began to reject scripts that offered her this
type of role. The law allowed for studios to suspend contract players for rejecting a role, and for the period of suspension
to be added to the contract period. In theory this allowed a studio to maintain indefinite control over an uncooperative contractree.
Most accepted this situation, while a few tried to change the system; Bette Davis had mounted an unsuccessful lawsuit against
Warner Brothers Studios in the 1930s. De Havilland mounted a lawsuit in the 1940s 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.
The quality and variety of her roles began to improve. 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,
which confronted such controversial subject matter.
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 du Bois in A Streetcar Named Desire, citing the unsavoury nature of the some elements of the script, and saying
there were certain lines she could not allow herself to speak. She continued acting until the 1980s.
A resident of
Paris since the 1950s, de Havilland lives in retirement and makes appearances rarely. She is reported to be working on an
autobiography. Her most recent public appearance was as a presenter at the 75th Annual Academy Awards in 2003.