Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Olivia de Havilland
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 family moved from Tokyo when she was two years old, settling in Saratoga, California. She attended school at Los Gatos High School and the Notre Dame Convent in Belmont, California.
De Havilland's career began in Alibi Ike in 1935. She appeared as Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream, her first stage production, at the Hollywood Bowl. The stage production was later turned into a 1935 movie with the same cast. De Havilland 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.
In 1941, Olivia became a naturalized citizen of the United States. 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 feud. 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 contractee. 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 DuBois 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. The role eventually went to her former Gone With the Wind co-star Vivien Leigh. De Havilland 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.
- De Havilland attended Los Gatos High School in Los Gatos, California as a teen. Subsequently, an acting award at the school is named after her.
- De Havilland was good friends with actress Bette Davis.
- Her father, Walter de Havilland, was the half-brother of Charles de Havilland, who was the father of Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, the famous aviation pioneer.
- Alibi Ike (1935)
- The Irish in Us (1935)
- A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)
- Captain Blood (1935)
- A Dream Comes True (1935) (short subject)
- Anthony Adverse (1936)
- The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)
- The Making of a Great Motion Picture (1936) (short subject)
- Call It a Day (1937)
- It's Love I'm After (1937)
- The Great Garrick (1937)
- Gold Is Where You Find It (1938)
- The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
- Four's a Crowd (1938)
- Hard to Get (1938)
- A Day at Santa Anita (1939) (short subject)
- Wings of the Navy (1939)
- Dodge City (1939)
- The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
- Gone with the Wind (1939)
- Raffles (1940)
- My Love Came Back (1940)
- Santa Fe Trail (1940)
- The Strawberry Blonde (1941)
- Hold Back the Dawn (1941)
- They Died with Their Boots On (1941)
- The Male Animal (1942)
- In This Our Life (1942)
- Show Business at War (1943) (short subject)
- Princess O'Rourke (1943)
- Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)
- Government Girl (1943)
- To Each His Own (1946)
- Devotion (1946)
- The Well-Groomed Bride (1946)
- The Dark Mirror (1946)
- The Snake Pit (1948)
- The Heiress (1949)
- My Cousin Rachel (1952)
- That Lady (1955)
- Not as a Stranger (1955)
- The Ambassador's Daughter (1956)
- The Proud Rebel (1958)
- Libel (1959)
- Light in the Piazza (1962)
- Lady in a Cage (1964)
- Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
- The Adventurers (1970)
- Pope Joan (1972)
- Airport '77 (1977)
- The Swarm (1978)
- The Fifth Musketeer (1979)
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