Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Tomorrow Is Another Day

The death was announced on Sunday of Miss Olivia De Havilland, aged 104 - the last of the glamorous actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Her parents were English, her father a lawyer, whose family came originally from the Channel Islands. Her cousin Geoffrey was an aviation pioneer, designing the Mosquito fighter plane in wartime, and the Comet airliner in peacetime. 
Olivia was born in Tokyo, in 1917, a year later, sister Joan was born.
They Los Angeles as both girls suffered with bronchial conditions, and the parents felt the climate there would better suit them. But her father was notoriously unfaithful and deserted them, moving back to Japan and marrying his housekeeper. Her mother remarried Mr Fontaine, a shop owner.
Her mother Lilian, had been an actress and encouraged both girls to go on stage. She taught them drama and elocution. At 16, Olivia starred in a school production of Alice in Wonderland. She was 'spotted' and was cast as Hermia in Midsummer Night's Dream at the Hollywood Bowl. Warner Brothers signed her up. By this time, she was engaged in a lifetime feud with her sister [Joan Fontaine] who maintained that Mum always favoured the older sibling.Joan also pursued a successful film career [Including Hitchcock's Rebecca, and Suspicion]
In the 1930s she was in a string of light romantic films, including eight with Errol Flynn, with whom she had great on screen chemistry.She declined his proposal of marriage, however, pointing out that he already had a wife!
In 1939, she landed the role of Melanie Hamilton in Selznick's "Gone With the Wind" - and was nominated for a 'best supporting actress' Oscar. That award went to Hattie McDaniels, [The first African American Actress to win an Oscar] who had played "Mammy" - but Miss McD had to stay in a segregated part of the awards ceremony. In 1942, her sister won an Oscar- the rift between them grew. In 1946 and 1948, Olivia won two of her own.
Olivia was a feisty woman, and fought with Warner brothers over unfair contracts, taking them to court, and winning the case, although it cost her a lot of money, and initially other studios blacklisted her.But most actors admired her, and were grateful for the change in the law which resulted. Even Joan grudgingly admitted that "Hollywood owes her a great deal"
Olivia married [and divorced] twice, and had two children. She is pictured here as Melanie Hamilton in 1939, and as herself in her 90s. Her last screen role was narrating a film about Alzheimers in 2009. In 2017, the Queen awarded her for her service to acting, and at the age of 101.she became a Dame - the oldest woman ever to receive this honour, 
I've always enjoyed those slushy black and white romantic 1930s films- great when there is a pile of ironing to do. So I hope they decide to show a lot of the on TV in her memory [ the Talking Pictures Channel usually comes up with the goods]
RIP Olivia-  I have no idea what your character was like in reality- but for me you will always be the sweet, but strong,  Melanie, faithful to dear but fickle Ashley, and loyally supporting the devious Scarlett. 
There are a lot of difficult issues around GWTW - both the book, and the film, and I do agree that many of the attitudes portrayed are just racist and wrong  - but I think it is important to recognise the era in which it was set, and be grateful for the changes we have seen since- but go on fighting for more equality of opportunity - for all those who suffer discrimination.
[if you ask me which GWTW woman I preferred, Scarlett, Melanie or Mammy, I actually think that Belle Watling was the best of the lot of them]


  1. This was fascinating to read! I didn't know this actress at All!

  2. I have discovered that she was a faithful member of the congregation at the Episcopal Cathedral in Paris. There was an obituary for her - I can send it to you if you wish (I think I still hzve it)

    1. Thank you FD, that would be interesting to read


Always glad to hear from you - thanks for stopping by!
I am blocking anonymous comments now, due to excessive spam!