Olivia de Havilland, two-time Academy Award-winning actress and one of the last remaining stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, has died at the age of 104.
de Havilland died of natural causes at her home in Paris, according to her publicist.
The British-American actress is perhaps best known for her role as Melanie Hamilton in 1939’s Gone With The Wind, for which she received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, but lost to fellow cast member Hattie McDaniel.
de Havilland won her first Academy Award for Best Actress in 1946 for the film To Each His Own, and then again in 1949 for her performance in William Wyler’s The Heiress, which was based on the Henry James novel Washington Square.
Arguably her most popular films, though, were the string of adventure films she made with Errol Flynn for Warner Bros. Between 1935 and 1941, the two starred in a total of eight films together, most notably Captain Blood (1935) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), both of which were directed by Michael Curtiz.
In 1943, de Havilland sued Warner Bros. after her seven-year contract with the studio expired. At the time, Warner’s lawyers argued that an actor’s contract should be suspended during periods when they were not working. This interpretation meant that, seven years of actual service could be spread over a much longer period. In 1945, the courts sided with de Havilland and established a new precedent for Hollywood contracts going forward.
Sixty years later, de Havilland again found herself at the center of a major legal dispute. In 2017, at the age of 101, she sued the producers of the FX miniseries Feud: Bette and Joan, over what she claimed to be an inaccurate portrayal of herself by Catherine Zeta Jones. After an appeals court ruled against her, she attempted to bring her case to the Supreme Court but was ultimately denied.
de Havilland was also known for her contentious relationship with her own sister, actress Joan Fontaine. The two sisters frequently competed for the same roles, and in 1942, Fontaine won her only Oscar for Suspicion, beating out fellow nominee de Havilland. When Fontaine stood up to accept the award, she publicly rejected an embrace from de Havilland. Five years later, when de Havilland won her own Academy Award, she returned the gesture by denying Fontaine a photograph.
Apparently the sisters’ relationship had been fraught since childhood, as a 1942 profile on the sisters revealed that Joan had plotted to kill her sister at the age of nine. “She thought it all out carefully: she would let Olivia hit her once, and then again, in silence. But after the third blow, she would plug Olivia between the eyes.”
Overall, de Havilland appeared in 49 feature films between 1933 and 1985, earning two Academy Awards and three additional nominations. In the later part of her career, she appeared in several television movies and mini series, most notably 1986’s Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna, which resulted in a Primetime Emmy Award nomination and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Television Movie or Series. Her final on-screen role came in 1988 with the UK romantic drama The Woman He Loved.
The death of Olivia de Havilland not only marks the passing of a beloved actress, but also the end of an era in cinema history. Though there are a few other actors and actresses of her generation remaining — for example, Norman Lloyd (age 105) and Marsha Hunt (age 102) — de Havilland was the last true star of classic Hollywood. With her death, the Golden Age of Hollywood itself begins to feel more and more like a distant moment in history.