Olivia de Havilland
Olivia de Havilland. © copyright John Mathew Smith 2001

Olivia de Havilland, two-time Academy Award winner and star of “Gone With the Wind,” died on Sunday from natural causes in her sleep at her home in Paris. She was 104.

De Havilland is the winner of two Academy Awards for “To Each His Own” and “The Heiress”, two Golden Globe Awards for “The Heiress” and “Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna”, two New York Film Critics Circle Awards for “The Snake Pit” and “The Heiress”, the National Board of Review Award, and the Venice Film Festival Volpi Cup for “The Snake Pit”, and a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for “Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna”.

De Havilland appeared in her final movie leading roles in two films released in 1964, both of which were psychological thrillers – in Walter Grauman’s “Lady in a Cage”, and in Robert Aldrich’s “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte” with her close friend Bette Davis.

A tribute to Olivia de Havilland as Melanie in Gone With the Wind (1939)
Olivia de Havilland presenting the 75th Past Oscar Winner Reunion

SAG-AFTRA mourned the passing of Screen Actors Guild founding member Olivia de Havilland with the following statement:

Former Screen Actors Guild founding member Olivia de Havilland, whose legal action against studio overreach set a precedent which echoes to this day, has died at age 104.

Courageous and confident from a young age, by the time she was 19 de Havilland was a movie star, under contract to Warner Bros. She leapt to film fame in 1935 with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Captain Blood. She took another proud step the following year by joining the as-yet-unrecognized Screen Actors Guild, and served on its board of directors from 1941-42 and as treasurer from 1947-48. During World War II, de Havilland promoted the sale of war bonds, toured military hospitals and joined the Hollywood Victory Caravan of stars, which crossed the country raising money for the war effort.

Perhaps best known for her 1939 role as the gentle, soft-spoken Melanie Wilkes in one of filmdom’s most famous pictures, Gone with the Wind, she proved anything but passive when it came to managing her career.

SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said of her, “Olivia de Havilland was not only beautiful and talented, she was a courageous visionary and an inspiration to generations. She was a founding member of Screen Actors Guild in a time when organizing and joining a union was often a dangerous enterprise. She sued her studio, Warner Bros., in 1943 for extending her contract past its original seven-year expiration date. SAG-AFTRA members will be forever grateful to Ms. de Havilland for her contributions to the founding of our union and the protection of its members. She was a marvel and a legend. Rest in peace.”  

The victory, to which the Screen Actors Guild legal counsel contributed, came to be known as the de Havilland Decision.

Her legal battles did not harm her career. She went onto win two Oscars for Best Actress in a Leading Role for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949). Her last of many acting awards came with her 1987 Golden Globe for Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986). 

In 2015, the SAG-AFTRA Honors and Tributes Committee awarded de Havilland with the Founders Award, in honor of de Havilland’s pioneering spirit, dedication to the union and commitment to fellow members. 

de Havilland, a resident of Paris since 1960, is survived by her daughter, Gisele Galante Chulak. Her younger sister, actress Joan Fontaine, predeceased her in December 2013 at age 96.

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