“GONE With the Wind” star Olivia de Havilland, considered the last surviving actress of the Golden Age of Hollywood, died on Sunday at the age of 104, the Hollywood Reporter said.
She died of natural causes at her home in Paris, where she had lived for more than 60 years, it said, citing her publicist.
De Havilland’s acting career included two Academy Awards, a victory over Hollywood’s studio system, and a long-running feud with sister Joan Fontaine that was worthy of a screenplay.
She first drew attention by playing opposite swashbuckling Errol Flynn in a series of films starting in the 1930s and made an enduring impression as the demure Southern belle Melanie in “Gone With the Wind” in 1939.
Later she would have to fight to get more challenging roles—a battle that ended up in court but paid off with Oscars for “To Each His Own” in 1946 and “The Heiress” in 1949.
De Havilland, a naturalized American who was born to English parents in Japan, had lived in Paris since 1953. She made few public appearances after retiring but returned to Hollywood in 2003 to take part in the 75th Academy Awards show.
De Havilland’s family moved to California when she and Joan were children. She began her movie career after director Max Reinhardt saw her in a California production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and cast her in his 1935 film version of the play. Warner Bros. was impressed and, as was the custom at the time, signed the teenager to a seven-year contract.
Warners loaned her out to make “Gone With the Wind” in 1939 and de Havilland’s gentle but willful personality helped make the role of Melanie one of the movie’s most intriguing parts. The role earned her the first of her five Oscar nominations.
“Gone With the Wind,” which also starred Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, won eight Academy Awards, including best picture.
The prestige of the Oscar nomination and the popularity of “Gone With the Wind” did not get de Havilland the types of roles she wanted. She often refused the parts Warner Bros. offered, which resulted in the studio suspending her several times.
In 1943 de Havilland declared that her seven-year deal with Warners had expired but the studio said she still owed them the six months that she spent on suspension.
De Havilland won in court, weakening the major studios’ dominance over actors by limiting actors’ contracts to seven years, regardless of suspension time. But challenging a powerful studio had been a risky career move and she did not make a movie for three years.
De Havilland made a triumphant return to the screen in 1946 with the Oscar-winning role of an unwed mother in “To Each His Own.” Three years later her portrayal of a spinster brought another Academy Award for “The Heiress.”
De Havilland made 50 movies in her career and nine were with Flynn, including “Captain Blood,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “They Died With Their Boots On.” She told LA Weekly she had a crush on Flynn but never acted on it.
Other memorable roles included playing both a sweet and evil twin in “The Dark Mirror” in 1946 and a mental patient in “The Snake Pit,” which earned her an Oscar nomination, in 1948. Later she starred in two well-received suspense films, “Lady in a Cage” and “Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte” with Bette Davis (both 1964).
De Havilland had a son, Benjamin, with Goodrich and a daughter, Giselle, with her second husband, journalist Pierre Galante. — Reuters