Olivia De Havilland, the last of classic Hollywood’s greatest movie stars and actresses, died in her sleep today at the age of 104. This is not my usual Tuesday movie blog recommendation, but I wanted to pay a brief tribute to this extraordinary woman. It is a strange thing to watch an entire generation disappear. And today is really the end of an era, as she was one of the last surviving people belonging to the group who made many of the movies on this blog.
The power of movie stars is that they evoke feelings or desires in viewers and come to represent specific emotions for people. Olivia was one of my favorites, whom I loved since I was kid. Probably the first time I saw Olivia De Havilland was in her iconic performance as “Melanie” in “Gone With the Wind”. I remember falling in love with her immediately because of that film. It is a film in which she plays a major supporting role, and leaves an indelible mark on all who see it, as well as on cinema history. As "Melanie" she exudes such warmth, kindness and courage - traits I would later find out she inhabited herself, and which would permeate most of her work. Olivia had a unique way of making you feel at your best. She left a significant mark onscreen and off, giving countless stunning portrayals, and singlehandedly changing the shape of the movie studios (which I talk more about in “The Heiress” post).
Thank goodness we are left with her unforgettable performances. Although known mostly as a dramatic actress, she is joyous to watch in such comedies as "It's Love I'm After" costarring Leslie Howard and Bette Davis, 1941's "The Strawberry Blonde" costarring James Cagney and Rita Hayworth, and the delightful dance number in 1943’s "Thank Your Lucky Stars" with George Tobias and Ida Lupino (yes, I said dance number).
Olivia was half of one of the most popular and enduring screen duos, with Errol Flynn, making nine films together. Of their films the classic “The Adventures of Robin Hood” from 1938, is still today considered one of the greatest adventure films of all time. I also love “They Died with Their Boots On” from 1941, and the film that made them both stars, “Captain Blood” from 1935. Although not your typical Flynn/De Havilland film but more of a Bette Davis vehicle, another gem is "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” from 1939.
Luckily, there are many films in which one can sample the magnificent gifts with which Olivia De Havilland graced us. She is remembered best for her dramatic roles, and in particular 1939’s “Gone With the Wind”. Among other Olivia De Havilland films one shouldn’t miss include: her brilliant performance in “The Snake Pit” from 1948, which takes an intense look at mental illness; “To Each His Own” from 1946 in which she ages almost three decades, and for which she won one of her two “Academy Awards”; "Hold Back the Dawn" costarring Paulette Goddard and Charles Boyer, and written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett; the 1964 grand guignol classic "Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte” also starring Bette Davis, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, and Mary Astor in her final film; and of course “The Heiress”.
I was lucky to have crossed paths with Olivia De Havilland twice. The first time was at the 2003 Oscars, where I remember her coming on stage in a shockingly vibrant blue dress. After the show, in the lobby, she happened to whisk right by me on her way out of the theater. Taken by surprise, I was partly shocked and fully in awe. The second time was at a tribute for her at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. It was in June of 2006 and she was interviewed by her friend, movie guru and then host of Turner Classic Movies, Robert Osborne. Olivia was gracious, funny, fascinating, and astute. She spoke of her life, career, lifelong friend Bette Davis, and the antics and appeal of her most famous costar, Errol Flynn. Both occasions are moments I will forever cherish.
She added grace and beauty with her presence, and the world is a bit dimmer today with the loss of one of its most legendary and brightest stars, Olivia De Havilland.