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Olivia de Havilland, star of Hollywood's Golden Age, has died at 104

Actress Olivia de Havilland dies at 104
Actress Olivia de Havilland dies at 104 03:09

Olivia de Havilland, the two-time Oscar winner and one of the glamorous stars of Hollywood's Golden Age in the 1940s, has died, her publicist said. She was 104.

De Havilland died at home in Paris, the city where she lived since the '50s. Her publicist said she died of natural causes.

De Havilland won Oscars for her roles in "The Heiress" and "To Each His Own," and also starred in "The Snake Pit" and "Hold Back the Down"; her most prominent role was in the 1939 epic "Gone With the Wind." She starred as Scarlett O'Hara's foe, the saintly Melanie Wilkes Hamilton, saying that Scarlett O'Hara did not "interest" her.

"Scarlett did not interest me as she epitomized the 'New Woman' who was self-sustaining, like myself. Melanie, on the other hand, was more traditional," she said in an interview to mark her 100th birthday. "Most of all, I wanted to be part of 'Gone With The Wind' as I sensed that the film would have a much longer life than others — perhaps as long as five years!" she told The Associated Press in 2016.

US-OSCARS-HAVILLAND
Olivia de Havilland poses on March 27, 1950, with her Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for the drama film "The Heiress" in Hollywood. INTERCONTINENTALE/AFP via Getty Images

She was nominated for an Oscar for the role, but did not win. She was the last surviving cast member.

De Havilland got her start in Austrian director Max Reinhardt's 1935 adaptation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," starring as Helena. She entered a contract with Warner Bros., rising to prominence opposite Errol Flynn in "Captain Blood" and "The Adventures of Robin Hood."

Amid her rise in the 1940s, she sued Warner Bros. after they demanded six more months on her seven-year contract to fulfill the times she had been suspended. The California Superior Court ruled that state law prohibited any contract longer than seven years, which changed Hollywood contracts forever and the legal provision is still known as "the de Havilland law."

She still spoke with pride of the victory in 2016, telling AP, "... as soon as my victory was legally confirmed and I was free to choose the films that I made, Paramount presented me with the script of 'To Each His Own' ... This was exactly the kind of challenge for which I fought that case." That role landed her her first Oscar.

In 1953, she moved to Paris "at the insistence" of her late husband, French journalist Pierre Galante, she told AP. She said she never saw any reason to move back to the U.S.

"By 1951, television had already made such inroads on the income garnered by motion picture companies that the Golden Era which had prevailed until then was beginning to disintegrate. And by 1953, it had come to an end. Hollywood was a dismal, tragic place," she said. 

75th Annual Academy Awards
 Former Best Actress Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland ("To Each His Own," 1946) introduces other former winners in acting categories for a group presentation during the 75th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater on March 23, 2003, in Hollywood. A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images

Her personal feud with her sister — Joan Fontaine, who died in 2013 — was legendary. De Havilland said in 2016 that the "legend of a feud" with her sister was first created by an article entitled "Sister Act" in Life Magazine following the 1942 Oscars, where both sisters were nominated for an Academy Award. Fontaine, who was then the lesser-known sister, won for "Suspicion," while de Havilland had been nominated for "Hold Back the Dawn." 

De Havilland insisted in 2016 that she couldn't think of "a single instance wherein I initiated hostile behavior," although she admitted her "deliberately inconsiderate behavior" was a defensive reaction. She said she called her sister the "Dragon Lady."

"Dragon Lady, as I eventually decided to call her, was a brilliant, multi-talented person, but with an astigmatism in her perception of people and events which often caused her to react in an unfair and even injurious way," she told the AP. 

In her 1978 memoir, Fontaine wrote that backstage at the Oscars, "all the animus we'd felt toward each other as children, the hair-pullings, the savage wrestling matches, the time Olivia fractured my collarbone, all came rushing back in kaleidoscopic imagery." 

After de Havilland's second Oscar win in 1947, Fontaine came backstage to congratulate her and was rebuffed. Her publicist said at the time that it was "something dating back to when they were children."

De Havilland mainly kept her silence and even on the eve of her 100th birthday, said that if her sister were alive, that "out of self-protection I would maintain my silence!" about the famous feud.

De Havilland was married twice, first to author Marcus Goodrich from 1946 to 1953 and then Galante, editor of the French magazine Paris Match. She is survived by her daughter, Gisele Galante Chulack, her son-in-law Andrew Chulack and her niece Deborah Dozier Potter. Her son,  Benjamin Goodrich, predeceased her.

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