Born in Tokyo in 1916, the arts were in her blood, her Mother being a RADA trained stage Actress; and a younger Sister, Joan Fontaine, also becoming a famous Actress, and with whom she was said to have had a long-standing rivalry; (although I personally felt the media overplayed it). Her paternal cousin, Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, was the founder of the legendary de Havilland aircraft company.
Olivia de Havilland's remarkable career would span some five decades, and in addition to being a wonderful Actress, she became a champion of performers' rights when she challenged the studio system which was prevalent in Hollywood at that time. Backed by the Screen Actors Guild she took her employers, Warner Brothers, to court and won what became a landmark labour ruling in 1944, known to this day as the 'De Havilland Law'.
I think I fell in love with her when I was eight years old, watching her on the old black and white telly opposite the great Errol Flynn, with whom she co-starred eight times. And of course, there was 'Gone With The Wind', for me still the greatest movie ever made, which garnered her one of the five Oscar nominations of her career. She would win two.
I guess when you are one hundred and four years old, you are entitled to cash your chips; but I cannot help but feel a deep sadness at her passing. It is as if a little part of my childhood has gone. They really don't make films like that any more; and we may never see her like again.
When her character, Melanie Wilkes, dies in Gone With The Wind, Rhett Butler speaks a line which somehow seems appropriate today...
"Well, God rest her. She was the only completely kind person I ever knew. A great Lady. A very great Lady."
A Great Lady, indeed.
Goodbye Madam, and Thank You...
Olivia Mary de Havilland, (1916-2020).
Requiescat In Pace...