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Golden Age Hollywood star Olivia de Havilland dies at 104

Jocelyne Zablit

Agence France-Presse

Los Angeles, United States  /  Mon, July 27, 2020  /  09:31 am
Golden Age Hollywood star Olivia de Havilland dies at 104

De Havilland, who built a reputation for being a bankable star for any genre, starred in 49 movies from 1935 to 2009. (AFP/-)

Olivia de Havilland, a two-time Oscar winner and one of the last links to Hollywood's Golden Age, died Sunday at the age of 104.

The actress, who starred in blockbusters like "Gone With the Wind" and played opposite such dashing leading men as Errol Flynn, personified the glamour and elegance of a bygone age of moviemaking.

In a statement, her publicist Lisa Goldberg said de Havilland "died peacefully from  natural causes" at her home in Paris, France, where she had lived for years.

"She was a queen of Hollywood, and will go down in cinematic history as such," Thierry Fremaux, director of the Cannes Film Festival, told AFP.

"There aren't many who deserve to be called a 'legend,'" tweeted Hollywood columnist Scott Feinberg, "but Olivia de Havilland... certainly was one."

And a Twitter account run by screen legend Humphrey Bogart's son said, "We have lost a true Classic Hollywood icon."

De Havilland, who built a reputation for being a bankable star for any genre, starred in 49 movies from 1935 to 2009.

She was also known for her colorful off-screen life, including a landmark legal battle against Warner Bros. and a secret and bitter feud with sister and fellow actress Joan Fontaine.

The De Havilland Law 

She earned the enduring appreciation of fellow actors when a suit she brought against Warner Bros. -- who had repeatedly extended her contract even as she rejected script after script -- led to a far-reaching 1945 ruling that gave actors far more power to choose their own roles.

Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz tweeted that even beyond her two Oscars, "her greatest contribution came in court against Warner Bros, setting a template for labor rights in Hollywood."

She took pride in the ruling, still known as the De Havilland Law.

Actor Jared Leto, himself an Oscar winner, tweeted that the law helped him extricate himself from an unfavorable nine-year contract. 

He was able to thank the actress in person in Paris, and recalled; "It was amazing to meet her -- she's a legend!"

Though De Havilland was blacklisted for three years while the case was underway, her legal victory kickstarted her career.

Neither she nor sister Joan Fontaine ever spoke publicly about their feud, but in 1941 De Havilland lost out on an Oscar for her lead performance as Emmy Brown in "Hold Back the Dawn" to Fontaine, who won for Alfred Hitchcock's "Suspicion."

They remain the only siblings in Oscar history to have both won lead acting honors. 

Read also: Olivia de Havilland defamed by 'lies' in FX miniseries, US court told

Cast with Errol Flynn 

Olivia Mary de Havilland was born on July 1, 1916 in Tokyo, the daughter of a British lawyer and actress mother Lilian Fontaine. 

When the couple divorced three years later, Fontaine took her two daughters to live in California.

Still in her teens, de Havilland was discovered by director Max Reinhardt during an amateur theater performance. 

In 1935, Warner Bros. signed her to a seven-year contract; the same year, Jack Warner took a chance on the unknown actress, casting her across the swashbuckling Errol Flynn in "Captain Blood" and launching her celebrated career.

She and Flynn, whose on-screen chemistry spurred speculation about an off-screen relationship, joined up again three years later in "The Adventures of Robin Hood." 

And in 1939, De Havilland was cast as the noble, long-suffering Melanie Hamilton in MGM's Civil War epic "Gone With the Wind." She earned a best actress Oscar nomination.

De Havilland lost out to co-star Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy and became the first African-American to win an Oscar. But the film sealed De Havilland's reputation as one of Hollywood's top leading ladies.

'Personal strength' 

De Havilland was married twice -- first to author Marcus Goodrich from 1946 to 1953 and then to journalist Pierre Galante, editor of the French magazine Paris Match. 

In all, she was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning best actress for "To Each His Own" (1946) and "The Heiress" (1949).

Tributes poured in on Sunday.

"At a time when women's place in cinema and in society at large is being questioned, we must remember the personal strength she showed when she attacked the studio system to free actors from exploitative contracts," Fremaux said.

And the Screen Actors Guild tweeted that her "grit to take on the studio system in 1945 helped her fellow actors for generations to come."

The star had lived in Paris since the early 1950s, and received honors such as the National Medal of the Arts, France's Legion d'Honneur, and the appointment to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

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