Olivia de Havilland: gone with the wind, but never to be forgotten
The actress’s achievements during Hollywood’s golden age, on and off the screen, leave a luminous legacy
Dame Olivia de Havilland, who has died aged 104, was a hardworking, apparently unassuming but unforgettable and unforgotten star from Hollywood’s golden era. A capable actress, well-mannered and softly spoken, she had depth and a gentle beauty that lit up roles that might otherwise have seemed cloyingly sweet or merely uninteresting, such as Maid Marian in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Melanie in Gone with the Wind (1939).
Excellent performances in The Snake Pit (1948) and The Heiress (1949) showed that she possessed a wider range, and in a famous clash with the studio she exhibited a steely firmness; but she was always most fondly remembered as the softening feminine element in swashbuckling adventure stories. A highly publicised tiff with her sister, Joan Fontaine (whom she nicknamed “the dragon lady”), spluttered throughout their lives.
Olivia Mary de Havilland was born in Tokyo on July 1 1916, 16 months before Joan; their parents were English. Walter Augustus de Havilland, a cousin of the aircraft manufacturer Sir Peter de Havilland, taught at the Imperial University and became a specialist in patent law; his wife Lillian had trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but, a stage career being deemed unsuitable, only sang in occasional concerts, engaged in amateur dramatics and took a few pupils, the most conspicuous of whom were to be her own daughters...