|British born actress, |
Olivia de Havilland.
(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Olivia de Havilland, who played the sweetest character in movie history so well that no one even hated her for it, died Saturday in Paris. She was 104.
As the saintly Melanie Wilkes in the 1939 epic “Gone With the Wind,” de Havilland set the bar for pure-hearted nobility that few subsequent actresses could ever reach. She also cast Melanie’s shadow over her own career, though she was a world-class old-style movie star in a variety of roles for more than a decade.
A beauty whose look was more wholesome than exotic, she first became widely known from her eight movies with Errol Flynn. She called him her first love, though she also insisted their widely reported affair never went beyond rumors. She won best actress Oscars for “To Each His Own” (1946) and “The Heiress” (1949). She was nominated as best supporting actress for “Gone With the Wind” and as best actress for “The Snake Pit” (1948), which tackled the controversial subject of mental illness and took de Havilland far from the genteel and proper Southern world in which Melanie Wilkes lived and died.
Her own life had a considerable measure of grace and gentility. Born in Tokyo in 1916 to a British patent attorney and his actress wife, she grew up in California and eventually moved to Paris in the 1950’s with her second husband, Pierre Galante.
She stayed there the rest of her life, though she commuted often to the U.S. The more ragged edges of her life included a long-running feud with her sister, the actress Joan Fontaine. Though neither discussed the estrangement in detail, it was widely thought to have been cemented at the 1942 Academy Awards ceremony. Both were nominated as best actress that year, Fontaine for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion” and de Havilland for “Hold Back the Dawn.”
When Fontaine was announced as the winner, she pointedly rejected de Havilland’s attempt to congratulate her, so offending de Havilland that they subsequently were civil only when protocol required.