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Golden Age Star Olivia de Havilland Turns 103! Loses Lawsuit over her Image

Nancy Bilyeau
Photo on left by John Mathew Smith CC by 2.0
Photo on left by John Mathew Smith CC by 2.0

Olivia de Havilland, who starred in The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, Gone With the Wind, and The Heiress, celebrated her 103rd birthday on July 1, 2019.

Born in Tokyo in 1916, Olivia Mary de Havilland made her big screen debut in 1935 in drama A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her parts soon settled into the sweet and charming love interest to actors such as Errol Flynn. She co-starred with Flynn in eight films.

In a letter written to a journalist, de Havilland wrote of Flynn, “His roguish reputation was very well deserved, as he more than candidly revealed in his remarkable autobiography, ‘My Wicked, Wicked Ways.’ However, through this very same book, we also know that he was a reflective person — sensitive, idealistic, vulnerable and questing. But I think he has been incompletely represented by the press: It vulgarized his adventures with the opposite sex and seldom, if ever, touched upon or emphasized the other facets of his life.”

Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn Robin Hood
Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Accuracy in how people are represented is clearly a priority with Olivia de Havilland. She has been actively pursuing legal action against producer Ryan Murphy and the FX Network over how she was depicted in the FX docudrama Feud: Bette and Joan. However the Supreme Court has decided to dismiss the case which effectively means the lawsuit is lost. The docudrama focused on the rivalry between Bette Davis, played by Susan Sarandon, and Joan Crawford, played by Jessica Lange, and re-created the filming of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? in 1962.

Olivia de Havilland
Olivia de Haviland in Versailles, France on November 28, 2005 (Photo by Alain BENAINOUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Olivia de Havilland was upset over Feud’s casting Catherine Zeta Jones to play de Havilland commenting on the feud between the two stars. In real life, De Havilland was a confidante of Bette Davis, and she replaced Joan Crawford when she dropped out of Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte, in which Crawford and Davis were set to return to the big screen after Baby Jane was a hit.

Olivia de Havilland
Olivia de Havilland publicity photo, 1940s

De Havilland has outlived many of her famous co-stars for decades. She played the selfless, loving Melanie in Gone With the Wind. Leslie Howard, her on-screen husband, was the first of the film’s stars to die, taken in a plane crash not long after, in 1943. Clark Gable died 57 years ago of a heart attack, while Selznick died 52 years ago. Vivien Leigh passed away in 1967.

Gone With the Wind
Olivia de Havilland from the trailer for the film Gone with the Wind (1939)

Forbes said, “Oscar came calling for Olivia de Havilland for the first time in 1947 for drama To Each His Own. De Havilland’s performance in 1948 drama The Snake Pit was praised as one of the first films to attempt a realistic portrayal of mental illness. And, in 1950, came her second golden statue for drama The Heiress. But de Havilland turned down the role of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (which went to her Gone With the Wind co-star Vivien Leigh) because she wanted to spend time with her young son.”

Check out some of her most memorable work here:

De Havilland’s career spanned 53 years, from 1935 to 1988. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. She was given an honorary doctorate from the University of Hertfordshire in England. “And, while her relationship with younger sister Joan Fontaine remained strained until Fontaine’s death at age 96 in 2013, they are the only siblings in history to be be awarded with an Oscar in a lead acting category,” Forbes said.

De Havilland and Fontaine did not speak to each other for 38 years. “You can divorce your sister as well as your husbands,” Joan Fontaine told People. “I don’t see her at all and I don’t intend to.”

Related Article: Gone With the Wind: How Olivia de Havilland helped Clark Gable Cry on Screen

Two weeks before her 101st birthday, the Gone With The Wind actress was given a damehood for services to drama. It made her the oldest woman ever to receive the honor. In a statement, she called it “the most gratifying of birthday presents.”