Last Remaining Cast Member From "Gone With The Wind," turns 104 Years Old
In an era of social distancing, Olivia de Haviland turns 104 years old in England.
June 2, 2020
Olivia de Haviland will celebrate her 104th birthday on July 1, 2020. A birthday event is being organized by Spring de Haviland, who is "related to Olivia, but no one is entirely sure how." And no one is entirely sure how people will celebrate it at this time of social distancing. But it's an achievement nonetheless.
The guest of honor will not be present herself at the event, because she is on the way to a private family celebration in Paris, France, where she has resided since 1956. Partygoers plan to dress as characters from her films, and tape a message to be presented to her. The event is taking place at the Santa Monica Airport, because that's where the Actress earned her pilot's license.
After romantic relationships with Howard Hughes, James Stewart, and John Huston, de Havilland married author Marcus Goodrich, with whom she had a son, Benjamin.
Following her divorce from Goodrich in 1953, she moved to Paris and married Pierre Galante, an executive editor for the French journal Paris Match, with whom she had a daughter, Gisèle. In 1962 she published Every Frenchman Has One, an account of her life in France. De Havilland and Joan Fontaine are the only siblings to have won Academy Awards in a lead acting category. A lifelong rivalry between the two resulted in an estrangement that lasted over three decades.
Olivia Mary de Havilland (born July 1, 1916) is a British-American actress whose career spanned from 1935 to 1988. She appeared in forty-nine feature films, and was one of the leading movie stars during the golden age of Classical Hollywood. She is best known for her early screen performances in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Gone with the Wind (1939), and her later award-winning performances in To Each His Own (1946), The Snake Pit (1948), and The Heiress (1949). Born in Tokyo to English parents, de Havilland and her younger sister, actress Joan Fontaine, moved to California in 1919. They were raised by their mother Lillian, a former stage actress who taught them dramatic art, music, and elocution. De Havilland made her acting debut in amateur theatre in Alice in Wonderland and later appeared in a local production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which led to her playing Hermia in Max Reinhardt's stage production of the same play and a movie contract with Warner Bros.
De Havilland made her screen debut in Reinhardt's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1935. She began her career playing demure ingénues opposite popular leading men, including Errol Flynn, with whom she made eight films. They became one of Hollywood's most popular romantic on-screen pairings. She achieved her initial popularity in romantic comedy films, such as The Great Garrick (1937), and in Westerns, such as Dodge City (1939). Her natural beauty and refined acting style made her particularly effective in historical period dramas, for example Anthony Adverse (1936), and romantic dramas, such as Hold Back the Dawn (1941). In her later career, she was most successful in drama films, such as Light in the Piazza (1962), and unglamorous roles in psychological dramas including Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964).
As well as her film career, de Havilland continued her work in the theatre, appearing three times on Broadway, in Romeo and Juliet (1951), Candida (1952), and A Gift of Time (1962). She also worked in television, appearing in the successful miniseries, Roots: The Next Generations (1979), and television feature films, such as Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna, for which she received a Primetime Emmy Award. During her film career, de Havilland won two Academy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, two New York Film Critics Circle Awards, the National Board of Review Award for Best Actress, and the Venice Film Festival Volpi Cup.
For her contributions to the motion picture industry, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. For her lifetime contribution to the arts, she received the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush, and was appointed a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
In a letter to a colleague dated November 18, 1938, film producer David O. Selznick wrote, "I would give anything if we had Olivia de Havilland under contract to us so that we could cast her as Melanie."
The film he was preparing to shoot was Gone with the Wind, and Jack L. Warner was unwilling to loan her out for the project. De Havilland had read the novel and, unlike most actresses who wanted the Scarlett O'Hara role, she wanted to play Melanie Hamilton-a character of quiet dignity and inner strength she understood and could bring to life on the screen. De Havilland turned to Warner's wife Anne for help. Warner later recalled, "Olivia, who had a brain like a computer concealed behind those fawn-like eyes, simply went to my wife and they joined forces to change my mind."
Warner relented, and de Havilland was signed to the project a few weeks before the start of principal photography on January 26, 1939.
Set in the American South during the nineteenth century, the film is about the strong-willed daughter of a Georgia plantation owner in love with the husband of her sister-in-law, Melanie, whose kindness stands in sharp contrast to those around her. According to film historian Tony Thomas, de Havilland's skillful and subtle performance effectively presents this character of selfless love and quiet strength in a way that keeps her vital and interesting throughout the film.
Gone with the Wind had its world premiere in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 15, 1939, and was well received. Frank S. Nugent of The Times wrote that de Havilland's Melanie "is a gracious, dignified, tender gem of characterization", and John C. Flinn, Sr., in Variety called her "a standout". The film won ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and de Havilland received her first nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
In retirement, de Havilland remained active in the film community. In 1998 she traveled to New York to help promote a special showing of Gone with the Wind.
In 2003 she appeared as a presenter at the 75th Academy Awards.
In 2004 Turner Classic Movies produced a retrospective piece called Melanie Remembers in which she was interviewed for the sixty-fifth anniversary of the original release of Gone with the Wind. In June 2006 she made appearances at tributes commemorating her 90th birthday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
On November 17, 2008, at the age of 92, de Havilland received the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the people of the United States. The medal was presented to her by President George W. Bush, who commended her "for her persuasive and compelling skill as an actress in roles from Shakespeare's Hermia to Margaret Mitchell's Melanie. Her independence, integrity, and grace won creative freedom for herself and her fellow film actors."
The following year, de Havilland narrated the documentary I Remember Better When I Paint (2009), a film about the importance of art in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.
On September 9, 2010, de Havilland was appointed a Chevalier (knight) of the Légion d'honneur, the highest decoration in France, awarded by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who told the actress, "You honor France for having chosen us."In February the following year she appeared at the César Awards in France, where she was greeted with a standing ovation.
Update: 6/30: We received a comment that "Mickey Kuhn, who played de Havilland's son in the film, is also alive and is currently 83 years old."
Gone with the Wind is a 1939 American epic-historical romance film adapted from Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone with the Wind. It was produced by David O. Selznick of Selznick International Pictures and directed by Victor Fleming. Set in the American South against the backdrop of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era, the film tells the story of Scarlett O'Hara, the strong-willed daughter of a Georgia plantation owner, from her romantic pursuit of Ashley Wilkes, who is married to his cousin, Melanie Hamilton, to her marriage to Rhett Butler. The leading roles are portrayed by Vivien Leigh (Scarlett), Clark Gable (Rhett), Leslie Howard (Ashley), and Olivia de Havilland (Melanie).
The production of the film was difficult from the start. Filming was delayed for two years due to Selznick's determination to secure Gable for the role of Rhett Butler, and the "search for Scarlett" led to 1,400 women being interviewed for the part. The original screenplay was written by Sidney Howard, but underwent many revisions by several writers in an attempt to get it down to a suitable length. The original director, George Cukor, was fired shortly after filming had begun and was replaced by Fleming, who in turn was briefly replaced by Sam Wood while Fleming took some time off due to exhaustion.
The film received positive reviews upon its release in December 1939, although some reviewers found it dramatically lacking and bloated. The casting was widely praised and many reviewers found Leigh especially suited to her role as Scarlett. At the 12th Academy Awards, it received ten Academy Awards (eight competitive, two honorary) from thirteen nominations, including wins for Best Picture, Best Director (Fleming), Best Adapted Screenplay (posthumously awarded to Sidney Howard), Best Actress (Leigh) and Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel, becoming the first African-American to win an Academy Award). It set records for the total number of wins and nominations at the time. The film was immensely popular, becoming the highest-earning film made up to that point, and retained the record for over a quarter of a century. When adjusted for monetary inflation, it is still the most successful film in box-office history.
The film has been criticized as historical revisionism glorifying slavery, but nevertheless, it has been credited for triggering changes to the way African-Americans are depicted on film. It was re-released periodically throughout the 20th century and became ingrained in popular culture. The film is regarded as one of the greatest films of all time; it has placed in the top ten of the American Film Institute's list of top 100 American films since the list's inception in 1998, and in 1989, the United States Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.