Olivia de Havilland, the star of the classic 1939 movie Gone with the Wind, died peacefully in her sleep at her home in Paris, France on July 25, less than a month after she turned 104, per her publicist Lisa Goldberg. The Oscar winner had long been retired at the time of her passing, but she’ll always be known as one of the greats from Hollywood’s golden age. Her role as Melanie in Gone with the Wind, a film about a turbulent romance between a man and a woman during the American Civil War, was one of the most memorable roles in movie history.
Gone with the Wind won an impressive 10 out of 13 Academy Awards, including one for Hattie McDaniel – the first black actress to ever win an Oscar -, and Olivia had the honor of being nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category. The Black Lives Matter movement recently put a spotlight on the impressionable film once again due to its white supremacist view of the Confederate South & slavery, and HBO Max temporarily removed it from their website for having “ethnic and racial prejudices” that “were wrong then and are wrong today.” After a few weeks, it was brought back with an introductory disclaimer that said “the film denies the horrors of slavery” and explained “why this 1939 epic drama should be viewed in its original form, contextualized and discussed.”
As we celebrate Olivia’s life and her 50-year career, take a look back at these five facts you may not have known about her.
1. Her career spanned more than 50 years and she starred in almost as many movies. When she looked back at her 101-years on this earth, Olivia had plenty of reasons to feel proud. After all, the retired actress has starred in such iconic films as the 1938 The Adventures Of Robin Hood and Gone With The Wind. By the time she walked away from Hollywood in 1988, she had appeared in 49 feature films.
Those flicks included The Heiress, The Snake Pit, To Each His Own, and My Cousin Rachel. While she would have a role as the narrator of 2009’s I Remember Better When I Paint, her last on-screen film role was of Queen Anne in 1979’s The Fifth Musketeer. Even though she retired, she still had an estimated net worth of $50 million at the time of her death.
2. She got her big break thanks to Shakespeare. Born in Toyko, Japan to British parents, Olivia began acting as a child while growing up in California. After graduating high school in 1934, she landed the role of Puck in the Saratoga Theater production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When director Max Reinhardt saw a showing of the production, he cast Olivia in the Warner Bros.’ 1935 film adaptation of the iconic play. The critical acclaim she got for her role launched her career.
“Especially in that time, and I know from Kirk [Douglas], my father-in-law, she was like a very level-headed woman for the craziness of what was going on in Hollywood,” Catherine Zeta-Jones, 47, who portrayed Olivia in FX’s Feud: Bette And Joan, told ABC News. “She had a beautifully cultured voice and of course, we all saw her as Mellie from Gone with the Wind, but she had a wonderful sense of humor.”
3. Olivia made eight films with Errol Flynn. Following her Shakespearean debut, Olivia starred opposite a then-unknown Errol Flynn. The on-screen chemistry between the two helped the movie become a success, even scoring four Academy Award nominations. The two would appear together in seven more movies: The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Four’s A Crowd, Dodge City, Santa Fe Trail, and They Died With Their Boots On. Errol would pass away in 1959, due to numerous health issues.
4. She’s a two-time Oscar winner. Olivia was nominated for Best Actress In A Supporting Role for her performance of Melanie Hamilton in Gone With The Wind. She’d be nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Hold Back The Dawn, but she wouldn’t win until 1946. She finally took home the gold for her leading role in To Each His Own. She would pick up her second Academy Award in 1949 for her role in The Heiress.
5. Her biggest Hollywood rival was her own flesh and blood. Olivia’s sister was Joan Fontaine, who won the Oscar for Best Actress in 1941 for her role in Suspicion. They are still the only siblings to have won Oscars in a lead acting category, and Joan actually beat out Olivia for the award (as she was nominated for her role in Hold Back The Dawn.) The two sisters had a frosty relationship growing up, and the bad blood got worse when Joan threw shade publicly at Olivia’s new husband, Marcus Goodrich, in 1946, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Though they were a few attempts at reconciliation, the feud continued into the 1970s. Joan and Olivia fought one last time over their mother’s cancer treatment, and Joan claimed Olivia didn’t even notify her that their mother had passed (a claim Olivia denied.) Joan passed away in 2013. Olivia said she was “shocked and saddened” by the loss of her sister.