Olivia de Havilland, a two-time winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress, has died in her sleep at home in Paris. She was 104.
De Havilland rose to prominence in the 1930s in a series of swashbuckling adventure films with Errol Flynn, including Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood.
She had her own battles in real life. De Havilland waged a legal action against Warner Bros. over her seven-year contract, which the studio tried to extend as a penalty for her refusing roles. She won the case in a landmark ruling that is still known today as the “de Havilland law.”
She had an Oscar nomination for her role as Melanie in Gone with the Wind, and was the final major cast member from that classic film still living. She followed that performance by earning her first Academy Award for 1946’s To Each His Own, about a mother seeking to reclaim a son she gave up for adoption. The second came three years later for The Heiress, portraying a woman manipulated by her wealthy father before triumphing.
Off-screen, de Havilland was a tireless fundraiser for the World War II efforts, crossing the country with other stars to sell war bonds. She later continued to fight the good fight when she battled against Communist sympathy in Hollywood and testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
She continued to work in film supporting roles throughout the 1970s, then made her mark in television, winning a Golden Globe for her role in the TV movie Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna.
In a final legal battle, de Havilland fought a two-year action over her depiction in FX’s series Feud: Bette & Joan. She petitioned the Supreme Court for a hearing, but was denied the opportunity to present her case.
de Havilland declared in her initial June 30, 2017 lawsuit that the “bitch”-spouting portrayal of her by Catherine Zeta-Jones in Feud damaged her “professional reputation for integrity, honesty, generosity, self-sacrifice and dignity.
SAG-AFTRA remembered de Havilland as “Courageous and confident from a young age, by the time she was 19 de Havilland was a movie star.”
De Havilland served on the Screen Actors Guild 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.
“Olivia de Havilland was not only beautiful and talented, she was a courageous visionary and an inspiration to generations,” said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris. She was a founding member of Screen Actors Guild in a time when organizing and joining a union was often a dangerous enterprise.
“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.”
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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