Getting to Know: Olivia de Havilland

A Dame of the British Empire and the last surviving A-list star from Hollywood's 1930s heyday, Olivia de Havilland celebrates her 103rd birthday on 1 July. Cinema Paradiso extends its warmest greetings and looks back on the career of a dual Oscar winner that was not without its controversies.

It appeared to take Hollywood a long time to realise that there was more to Olivia de Havilland than a winsome smile. Even when she started demanding roles that required more of her than decorative support, executives and critics alike seemed surprised that she was capable of more than merely melting into her leading man's arms for a dewy-eyed kiss. She lobbied hard to play Melanie Hamilton in David O. Selznick's adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's bestseller, Gone With the Wind (1939), and was deeply dismayed when the Warner Bros front office responded to her Oscar nomination by returning her to love interest duties. The studio soon realised the folly of taking De Havilland lightly, however, and it says much for the way in which she controlled her later career that she bowed out of movies on her own terms at a time of her own choosing. 

The Runaway Wannabe

Born in Tokyo on 1 July 1916, Olivia de Havilland was the daughter of RADA-trained stage actress Lilian Ruse and Walter de Havilland, a patent lawyer whose cousin, Geoffrey, was the founder of the De Havilland aircraft company. Rather resenting the arrival of a younger sister, Joan, Olivia competed for Lilian's attention when she left her philandering spouse and settled in Saratoga, California after being forced to abandon plans to return to London when Joan contracted pneumonia in transit.

A bright child who took ballet, piano and elocution lessons, Olivia had little time for her stepfather, department store manager George Fontaine, and rebelled when he disapproved of her involvement with the drama club at Los Gatos High School. Yet, she was planning to become an English teacher when she made her debut in an amateur production of Alice in Wonderland in 1933 and it was only when Fontaine made her choose between living at home and the part of Elizabeth Bennet in a production of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice that De Havilland realised she had caught the acting bug and moved in with a family friend.

Fate intervened again in 1934 when De Havilland was offered a scholarship to Mills College in Oakland at precisely the same time she was cast as Puck in the Saratoga Community Theatre's version of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Legendary Austrian stage director Max Reinhardt was in Los Angeles to present his own interpretation of the play and one of his assistants was so taken by De Havilland's performance that Reinhardt asked her to play Hermia when Gloria Stuart quit the show. Moreover, when Warners hired  Reinhardt to film the play, he insisted that De Havilland kept her place and she was signed to a five-year contract on a weekly $200 salary in November 1934.

In Like Flynn

Not sure what to do with a well-spoken 18 year-old, Warners pitched their new starlet into a couple of modest comedies, Alibi Ike with Joe E. Brown and The Irish in Us with James Cagney, while Reinhardt and co-director William Dieterle completed their Bard. Had anyone been paying attention during the shoot, they would have seen De Havilland asking cinematographer Hal Mohr about lighting and camera angles so that she knew how to modulate her performance and make the most of her looks. Reinhardt wanted her for his biopic of the French Revolutionary leader Georges Danton. But, while the project failed to materialise, the screen test struck a chord somewhere on the Warner lot and De Havilland found herself playing against a dashing Australian in Michael Curtiz's rousing take on Rafael Sabatini's adventure novel, Captain Blood (1935).

The studio had largely shied away from expensive costume dramas during the Depression, as a box-office flop could have major ramifications. But Jack Warner recognised that Errol Flynn was a superstar in the making and he soon saw from the daily rushes that there was a spark between the Irish physician wrongfully sold into slavery following a rebellion against James II and the daughter of a Jamaican plantation owner. Flynn and De Havilland also felt an attraction. But, as he was married to actress Lily Damita, De Havilland refused to entertain his unusually discreet advances. After their first teaming scooped five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, they were soon reunited on Curtiz's The Charge of the Light Brigade, after De Havilland had co-starred with Fredric March in Mervyn LeRoy's costume saga, Anthony Adverse (both 1936), which also drew a Best Picture citation among its six nominations.

Convinced that Flynn was the new Douglas Fairbanks, Warners decided to make his next swashbuckler in Technicolor and cast De Havilland as Maid Marian to his Lincoln Green outlaw in Michael Curtiz and William Keighley's The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). The studio was delighted at snaring another Best Picture nomination and plans were made to send the duo into the Wild West for Curtiz's Dodge City (1939), In the meantime, however, the pair had to settle for the same director's flat-footed screwball comedy, Four's a Crowd (1938), in which Flynn's newspaper editor discovers that proprietor Patric Knowles is engaged to De Havilland, whose grandfather is the tycoon Flynn hopes will launch his public relations business.

De Havilland's haughty settler has a similar change of heart about Flynn in Dodge City, as he accepts the post of sheriff to clean up a lawless Texan cattle town. Despite enjoying working with Flynn again, De Havilland detested the project and later confessed, 'I was in such a depressed state that I could hardly remember my lines.' Her mood changed when she found herself alongside Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh and Leslie Howard in the most talked about picture of the decade. But no sooner had she returned from making Gone With the Wind than Jack Warner sought to show De Havilland who was boss by giving her third billing behind Bette Davis and Errol Flynn in Michael Curtiz's The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), as lady-in-waiting Penelope Grey, who hopes to keep Flynn's ambitious earl out of Good Queen Bess's bed and off her gallows.

De Havilland found herself in another love triangle in Curtiz's Santa Fe Trail (1940), as the daughter of the railway contractor who catches the eye of West Point cadets, Jeb Stuart (Flynn) and George Custer (Ronald Reagan). Unfortunately, when De Havilland and Flynn travelled to Santa Fe by train to attend the premiere, she had to be rushed to hospital after being diagnosed with appendicitis. On returning to work, she joined forces with Flynn for one last time on Raoul Walsh's They Died With Their Boots On (1941), in which they played Custer and his wife, Libbie Bacon. Flynn had personally requested De Havilland as his co-star and she always recalled the poignancy of his final line to her on screen: 'Walking through life with you, ma'am, has been a very gracious thing.'

The Seven-Year Itch

While making her Crimean War epic with Flynn, the 20 year-old De Havilland had signed a seven-year contract that saw her weekly salary rise to $500. But any hopes she might have had of landing weightier roles were soon dashed. Despite getting to team with close friend Bette Davis on Archie Mayo's screwball, It's Love I'm After (1937), De Havilland had little to celebrate outside her partnership with Flynn. But not even her Technicolor bow in Michael Curtiz's Gold Is Where You Find It (1938) resulted in any more prestigious assignments.

Doubtless, she had hopes of being loaned out to Samuel Goldwyn to play alongside David Niven in Raffles (1939). However, she found the shoot enormously frustrating and returned to Warners intent on following Davis's tactic of rejecting roles she considered beneath her. Moreover, following her emergency operation, De Havilland underwent a prolonged period of convalescence that was dimly viewed by the front office. While Anne Warner had sweet-talked her husband into letting De Havilland make Gone With the Wind, she knew better than trying to tell him how to run his own studio. Thus, despite her Oscar nomination, Jack Warner coerced her into making mediocre musical comedies.

She was better served by Raoul Walsh's The Strawberry Blonde (1941), in which she competed for the affections of James Cagney with Rita Hayworth. But she had to engineer a loan to Paramount in order to co-star with Charles Boyer in Mitchell Leisen's Hold Back the Dawn (1942), which brought De Havilland her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her performance as a small-town teacher who comes out of her shell under the tutelage of a European roué. The best Warners could offer her was The Male Animal (1942), a middling rom-com with Henry Fonda, whom she had got to know while dating his best buddy, James Stewart. A romance with her director blossomed while making John Huston's In This Our Life (1942), an adaptation of Ellen Glasgow's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that paired De Havilland with Bette Davis as feuding sisters.

As we shall see below, this storyline hit close to home. But De Havilland had other pressing issues at hand after Warners refused to release her after the completion of Princess O'Rourke (1943) by insisting that she owed them an extra six months because of her protracted periods of recuperation and suspension. However, the lawyer's daughter did her homework and took the studio to the California Superior Court after uncovering a clause in the state's labour code that forbade the arbitrary extension of contracts. Unable to work while awaiting the verdict, De Havilland became a regular at the Hollywood Canteen that had been set up by Davis to provide US service personnel with a hint of glamour before being posted overseas. Having become a naturalised citizen in November 1941, she also felt it was her duty to go on a USO tour to the South Pacific.

She got her reward two years later when the court found in her favour and loosened the grip that the studios had over their employees. Even Joan Fontaine was moved to concede that 'Hollywood owes Olivia a great deal,' and, to this day, the judgement is still known as the De Havilland Law. Warners got their revenge, however, by cajoling the other studios into imposing an unofficial blacklist that lasted almost two years.

Bigger Than Hiroshima

Despite being born 15 months apart, sisters Olivia and Joan had never been close. As the latter had been a sickly child, she resented the fact that her sibling was allowed to do things she wasn't ('Livvie can, Joan can't') and she never forgave Olivia for ripping hand-me-down clothing that had to be repaired before it could be worn. She also recalled Olivia fracturing her collarbone during a furious rage some time in 1933. When Fontaine decided she also wanted to become an actress, De Havilland made it clear that she couldn't use the family name and blocked Warner director Mervyn LeRoy's efforts to sign Fontaine to a personal contract because she didn't want her sister working at the same studio. She even dated the aviation tycoon Howard Hughes because she knew Fontaine was sweet on him.

Things came to a head in 1942, however, when De Havilland and Fontaine were both nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Many people in Hollywood felt that Fontaine had unfairly lost out to Ginger Rogers in Sam Wood's Kitty Foyle after her fine performance in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (both 1940). So, when Fontaine was nominated again for the same director's Suspicion (1941), several voters seemed keen to make amends for the previous year's oversight by favouring her over De Havilland, even though she had excelled in Hold Back the Dawn. Seizing on the rivalry, Life Magazine ran an article entitled 'Sister Act', in which it reported that the nine year-old Joan had planned to kill her sibling by letting her hit her three times before she plugged her between the eyes.

According to legend, De Havilland proclaimed, 'We've got it!', when Fontaine's name was announced at the Oscar ceremony. However, she later admitted that she had thought, 'Oh, my God! I've lost prestige with my own sister. And it was true. She was haughty to me after that.' Yet, it was De Havilland who turned her back on Fontaine when she tried to congratulate her backstage after she had won the Oscar for Mitchell Leisen's To Each His Own (1946).

They remain the only sisters to win Best Actress and, years later, while publicising her autobiography, No Bed of Roses (1978) - which De Havilland retitled 'No Shred of Truth' - Fontaine told People Magazine, 'we may not get along personally, but I am absolutely thrilled that my sister has accomplished what she has. Imagine what we could have done if we had gotten together. We could have selected the right scripts, the right directors, the right producers - we could have built our own empire. But it was not to be.'

Instead, Fontaine opted to 'divorce' De Havilland, who subsequently referred to her sister as 'Dragon Lady'. They attempted a reconciliation over Christmas in 1961. But things didn't go well and, when Fontaine was asked if they could ever patch things up, she suggested, 'There would be a slight problem of temperament, In fact, it would be bigger than Hiroshima.' De Havilland hit back by claiming Fontaine 'was a brilliant, multi-talented person, but with astigmatism in her perception of people and events which often caused her to react in an unfair and even injurious way'. In another interview, she mused on their relationship: 'On my part, it was always loving, but sometimes estranged and, in the later years, severed.'

The final parting of the ways came in 1975 when they disagreed over the best way to treat Lilian's cancer. Fontaine was touring in a stage production of Cactus Flower (which had earned Goldie Hawn an Oscar when it was filmed in 1969) when her mother's condition deteriorated and she was deeply hurt that De Havilland failed to inform her. Seemingly, a dispatched telegram had taken two weeks to reach Fontaine, who always maintained that she had not been invited to the memorial service and had arrived to be handed a box containing Lilian's ashes in stony silence.

Although they never spoke to each other again, words were exchanged. When asked by People how she would like to die, Fontaine had replied: 'At age 108, flying around the stage in Peter Pan, as a result of my sister cutting the wires. Olivia has always said I was first at everything - I got married first, got an Academy Award first, had a child first. If I die, she'll be furious, because again I'll have got there first!' When Fontaine did pass away at the age of 96 on 15 December 2013, De Havilland issued a statement revealing that she had been 'shocked and saddened' by the news. In an interview to mark her centenary in 2016, however, she insisted on having the last word on the matter: 'A feud implies continuing hostile conduct between two parties. I cannot think of a single instance wherein I initiated hostile behaviour.'

The Peak of Her Powers

De Havilland didn't work between finishing RKO's flag-waving comedy, Government Girl (1943), and the first day of shooting on To Each His Own in June 1945. Indeed, her mother Lilian made more films during this period than she did, after she was cast as Jane Wyman's mother in Billy Wilder's Best Picture winner, The Lost Weekend (1945). Now berthed at Paramount on a two-picture deal that allowed her to keep her options open, De Havilland spent hours in the company of make-up artists Wally Westmore and Norbert A. Myles to enable her to age 30 years in following the fortunes of the son she had given up for adoption. The effort proved worthwhile, as she won the Oscar for Best Actress and embarked upon a run of classic pictures that was only interrupted by the misfiring Brontë biopic, Devotion, and her penultimate romcom, The Well-Groomed Bride (both 1946).

She demonstrated the new depth to her playing as twin sisters Ruth and Terry Collins in Robert Siodmak's The Dark Mirror (1946), which she followed with another searing study of mental health, Anatole Litvak's The Snake Pit (1948), an adaptation of a Mary Jane Ward novel that was based on her own eight-month recovery from a nervous breakdown. De Havilland strove hard for authenticity in her performance and was rewarded with the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival, as well as receiving another Oscar nomination. While she lost out on this occasion, De Havilland joined Luise Rainer and Bette Davis in winning the Best Actress statuette twice when she was victorious for William Wyler's The Heiress (1949), an adaptation of Henry James's novel, Washington Square, that she had begged the director to make after seeing the stage version on Broadway.

Rather than cashing in on her success, however, De Havilland took extended maternity leave following the birth of her son, Benjamin, even turning down the role of Blanche DuBois in Elia Kazan's adaptation of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) that earned a second Best Actress Oscar for her GWTW co-star, Vivien Leigh. Sadly, her marriage to novelist Marcus Goodrich (who was 18 years her senior) didn't last and she dipped out of the spotlight again having taken the title role in Henry Koster's interpretation of Daphne Du Maurier's period novel, My Cousin Rachel (1952).

During her screen sabbatical, De Havilland returned temporarily to the theatre. But the critics unkindly suggested she was too old at 35 to play Romeo and Juliet and she began her slow withdrawal from acting after marrying Pierre Galante, an executive editor at Paris Match, in April 1955. Indeed, having moved to the three-storey Parisian property that remains her home, she had to commute to the British and Spanish locations to make Terence Young's That Lady (1955) and to Hollywood to team with Robert Mitchum in Stanley Kramer's Not As a Stranger (1955), in which De Havilland plays an older woman helping a workaholic doctor fulfil his ambitions.

A Long Parisian Sunset

Unimpressed by romcom roles like the one in The Ambassador's Daughter (1956), De Havilland realised that the studios had little to offer an actress entering her fifth decade. 'Hollywood was a dismal, tragic place,' she later reflected, as longer periods elapsed between pictures like her final assignment with Michael Curtiz on The Proud Rebel (1958), a Western with Alan Ladd that she made the year before the passing of her most frequent co-star, Errol Flynn. Indeed, her next two pictures were directed by Brits, but despite endearing herself to her new compatriots with Every Frenchman Has One, a 1962 book about her efforts to adapt to the Gallic lifestyle, she was never offered a single part in a French feature. 

Instead, she doted on Benjamin and her toddler daughter, Gisèle, and made the occasional return to Broadway. In 1964, she shattered her screen image in two psychological thrillers, Walter Grauman's Lady in a Cage and Robert Aldrich's Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, in which she respectively played a poet being terrorised in her mansion lift by a trio of home invaders and the cousin helping Bette Davis resist plans to build a highway through her property. The latter had been intended as a follow up to Aldrich's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and De Havilland had agreed to reunite with her old friend after Joan Crawford was forced to withdraw with illness. This period is covered in Ryan Murphy's controversial mini-series, Feud (2017), in which De Havilland is played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, while Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon lock horns as Crawford and Davis. But De Havilland was so angry at her depiction that she sued the programme makers for inaccuracy and using her likeness without permission. After a lengthy court process, however, the verdict went against her.

This soured De Havilland's relationship with the small screen, which had started with an uncredited cameo alongside Barbara Stanwyck in a 1965 episode of The Big Valley. In 1972, De Havilland revisited the theme of mental anguish in her first starring teleplay, The Screaming Woman, while she reunited with Henry Fonda as a Confederate officer's wife in Roots: The Next Generations (1979). However, she proved less fortunate in her choice of feature projects as, having turned down the Jennifer Jones role in John Guillermin's The Towering Inferno (1974), she found herself in a markedly less acclaimed disaster movie, Irwin Allen's The Swarm (1978), which co-star Michael Caine ranks among the worst films he ever made (which, of course, makes it unmissable).

Following her big-screen swan song in her 49th feature, The Fifth Musketeer (1979), De Havilland became a suspect for Helen Hayes's Miss Marple in Claude Whatham's Agatha Christie whodunit, Murder Is Easy (1982), and followed return to the Civil War era in North and South, Book II by winning a Golden Globe for her performance as the Dowager Empress Maria Romanoff in Marvin J. Chomsky's Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (both 1986). She also played the Queen Mother in The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana (1982) and Wallis Simpson's aunt in The Woman He Loved (1988). Buckingham Palace appeared to forgive her, however, as she was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2017 Birthday Honours.

  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

    Play trailer
    1h 38min

    Olivia de Havilland might not have played Maid Marian had James Cagney not had a falling out with the Warner Bros front office. Anita Louise was being considered for Robin of Loxley's love interest. But, when Errol Flynn replaced Cagney, De Havilland was his preferred choice and she plays the role with a winsome spirit that set the tone for several subsequent depictions. Costume designer Milo Anderson encouraged her to suggest ideas for her outfits and she conducted considerable research into period fashions and hairstyles. De Havilland's horse, Golden Cloud, would go on to find fame as singing cowboy Roy Rogers's mount in oaters like Joseph Kane's In Old Caliente (1938). Intriguingly, Alan Hale also played Little John opposite Douglas Fairbanks in Allan Dwan's Robin Hood (1922) and John Derek in Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950), which was directed by Gordon Douglas, who also helmed the Rat Pack caper, Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964).

  • Gone with the Wind (1939)

    3h 44min

    Celebrating its 80th anniversary, Victor Fleming's adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has undoubtedly dated in many of its socio-racial attitudes. But it remains Hollywood's biggest box-office behemoth, with inflation adjusted takings of $1.6 billion. As actresses ranging from Bette Davis to Paulette Goddard competed for the coveted role of Southern belle Scarlett O'Hara, De Havilland set her sights on playing Melanie Hamilton, the sister-in-law who wins the heart of her land-owning cousin, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard). Perhaps things might have been different had Errol Flynn pipped Clark Gable to the role of Rhett Butler, but De Havilland brought a sense of elegant calm to the epic Civil War saga, although she lost out in the Best Supporting Actress category to Hattie McDaniel, who became the first African-American to win an Academy Award for her performance as Mammy. In all, GWTW converted eight of its record 13 nominations, while adding two honorary awards.

    Director:
    Victor Fleming
    Cast:
    Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Thomas Mitchell
    Genre:
    Classics, Drama
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • Hold Back the Dawn (1941)

    1h 54min

    Donald Trump's proposed wall has given a certain topicality to Mitchell Leisen's adaptation of a Ketti Frings novel that was based on her own experiences after boxer husband Kurt Frings was denied residency. Scripted by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, the story centres on Romanian entertainer Charles Boyer, who is stranded in Mexico after the US immigration authorities inform him that he will have to wait eight years for a quota number. However, Boyer decides to follow the example of dance partner Paulette Goddard and marry an American citizen in order to secure entrance. De Havilland plays the timid teacher who falls for Boyer's continental charm, only to discover his duplicity and be badly injured in a car crash. In lesser hands, this could easily have been melodramatic mush and De Havilland owed her Oscar nomination to Leisen's insistence on reshooting scenes in which her off-screen admiration for Boyer was too readily evident in her eyes.

    Director:
    Mitchell Leisen
    Cast:
    Charles Boyer, Olivia De Havilland, Paulette Goddard
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics, Romance
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • In This Our Life (1942)

    1h 35min

    Despite rumours John Huston's adaptation of Eileen Glasgow's Pulitzer-winning novel was going to reunite De Havilland with Errol Flynn, George Brent and Dennis Morgan essayed the men used and abused by Bette Davis in one of her most shameless wicked lady roles. Co-starring with Davis in the third of their six teamings, De Havilland suffers nobly as an interior decorator who loses her doctor spouse to her scheming sibling (the sisters are curiously named Stanley and Roy) and hides her hurt by encouraging lawyer Brent to sponsor Ernest Anderson, the son of family maid Hattie McDaniel, and protect him when he is framed for a traffic accident. Huston started dating De Havilland during the shoot and Davis accused him of favouring his sweetheart in their scenes together. However, the picture was completed by Raoul Walsh after Huston was recruited to make war documentaries like Report From the Aleutians (1943), which is available on World War II in Colour.

    Director:
    John Huston
    Cast:
    Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland, George Brent
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics, Romance
    Availability:
    DVD
  • To Each His Own (1946)

    1h 57min

    De Havilland rates this as her favourite film, as she had begged screenwriter Charles Brackett to delay production until she had finished her legal tussle with Warners. Paramount must have been glad they waited, as De Havilland earned the studio its first Academy Award for Best Actress for her delicate display as the small-town belle who is forced to give up her son following a one-night stand with pilot John Lund during the Great War. Told in flashback from wartime London, the action follows many Hollywood 'woman's pictures' in having an unmarried mother watch her child grow at a remove. The Production Code guardians coerced Brackett into tweaking his ending, as it refused to allow a sinful woman who had conceived out of wedlock to have any palpable redemption. Such was the film's global popularity that it was remade in Bollywood as Shakti Samanta's Aradhana (1969), with Sharmila Tagore and Rajesh Khanna in the De Havilland and Lund roles.

    Director:
    Mitchell Leisen
    Cast:
    Olivia De Havilland, John Lund, Mary Anderson
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics
    Availability:
    DVD
  • The Dark Mirror (1946)

    1h 25min

    Having fought so hard for creative independence, De Havilland was keen to prove she had a dark side and this Robert Siodmak thriller afforded the perfect opportunity. Scripted by Nunnally Johnson, who had been feted for the twisting scenario in Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Window (1944), the plot centres on the efforts of police lieutenant Stevenson (Thomas Mitchell) and psychiatrist Scott Elliott (Lew Ayres) to determine which of identical twins Ruth and Terry Collins (both De Havilland) killed a doctor in a fit of rage. As he had demonstrated with Phantom Lady (1944), Siodmak was a master of atmosphere and suspense and he conspired with De Havilland to ensure that the audience was no wiser than the investigators about which twin was on screen. Making canny use of effects editing to allow De Havilland to play against herself, this may pull the rug in the cornball finale. But Vladimir Pozner's Oscar-nominated story exerts quite a grip.

    Director:
    Robert Siodmak
    Cast:
    Olivia De Havilland, Lew Ayres, Thomas Mitchell
    Genre:
    Thrillers, Drama, Classics
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • The Snake Pit (1948)

    1h 43min

    Having read acting guru Konstantin Stanislavsky's autobiography, De Havilland started experimenting with Method tics like using different perfumes for each stage of life in To Each His Own. Ginger Rogers claimed to have turned down that film and this exposé of conditions inside America's psychiatric institutions. However, it was Ingrid Bergman's reluctance that prompted director Anatole Litvak to cast De Havilland in a role for which she prepared by visiting the Camarillo State Mental Hospital. She also lost weight and opted to play scenes without make-up to suggest her character's distress after she is committed by new husband Mark Stevens. It was a bravura performance, but spare a thought for Leif Erickson, who plays De Havilland's unfortunate fiancé in a flashback, as actress wife Frances Farmer was undergoing similar treatment during the shoot, as is revealed in Graeme Clifford's Frances (1982), for which Jessica Lange and Kim Stanley received Oscar nominations for playing Farmer and her domineering mother.

    Director:
    Anatole Litvak
    Cast:
    Olivia De Havilland, Mark Stevens, Leo Genn
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • The Heiress (1949)

    Play trailer
    1h 50min

    Having seen Wendy Harris and Basil Rathbone excel in Ruth and Augustus Goetz's Broadway adaptation of Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square, De Havilland pleaded with director William Wyler to acquire the rights so that she could portray the affection-starved Catherine Sloper. She was thrilled when Ralph Richardson (who had headlined the London production alongside Peggy Ashcroft) agreed to play her strict father, Austin. However, she had difficulties with both Richardson and Montgomery Clift, as the fortune-hunting Morris Townsend. Yet, while Wyler largely managed to keep Richardson's focus-stealing antics out of the frame, Clift's Methodical improvisations actually reinforced De Havilland's sense of ill-at-ease inadequacy and helped her land her second Oscar. Wyler further did his bit when his star was struggling to hit the right note of pathos as she had to haul her suitcase back to her lonely room, as he had it filled with heavy books to make her seem more hunched and dejected.

    Director:
    William Wyler
    Cast:
    Olivia De Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics, Romance
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • My Cousin Rachel (1952)

    1h 34min

    As Joan Fontaine had enjoyed success in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) and Mitchell Leisen's Frenchman's Creek (1944), De Havilland felt entitled to her own tilt at a Daphne Du Maurier novel. However, she only came by the role of Richard Burton's mysterious widowed cousin-in-law, Rachel Ashley, after screenwriter Nunnally Johnson had attempted to entice Greta Garbo out of her decade-long retirement and director George Cukor had sought to cast Vivien Leigh opposite the young Welshman making his Hollywood debut. When Cukor and Johnson squabbled, Carol Reed became linked to the project, which GWTW producer David O. Selznick also tried to acquire for wife Jennifer Jones. Eventually, the underrated Henry Koster took the reins and guided De Havilland to a Golden Globe nomination and Burton to a Globe for Most Promising Newcomer and an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor. In 2017, Rachel Weisz assumed the title role opposite Sam Claflin for director Roger Michell.

    Director:
    Henry Koster
    Cast:
    Olivia De Havilland, Richard Burton, Audrey Dalton
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics, Romance
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

    Play trailer
    2h 7min

    Fans of the gleefully scurrilous TV series, Feud, will have seen one version of whatever happened to Baby Joan during the making of Robert Aldrich's follow-up to Bette Davis and Joan Crawford's enduringly grotesque 1962 Grand Guignol. Once the latter decided to quit (hoping that the picture would collapse without her), another saga began, as Aldrich contacted Katharine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Loretta Young and Barbara Stanwyck in the hope they would partner Joseph Cotten in tormenting Davis, as she tries to prevent developers from seizing the plantation she shares with her housekeeper (the Oscar-nominated Agnes Moorehead). When Davis suggested her old Warner cohort, Aldrich flew to Switzerland to coax De Havilland into considering a role that she only accepted as a favour to Davis, as she disliked being cast in such an unsympathetic light. Responding to rumours that Davis and De Havilland had celebrated her ignominious departure, Crawford told reporters, 'I'm glad for Olivia, She needed the part.'

    Director:
    Robert Aldrich
    Cast:
    Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland, Joseph Cotten
    Genre:
    Thrillers, Classics
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray

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