Guideposts Remembers Dame Olivia de Havilland

After more than a century lived in and out of the spotlight, Oscar-winning actress Olivia de Havilland has died at age 104.

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Actress Olivia de Havilland

Oscar-winning actress Olivia de Havilland died peacefully in her sleep on July 25, 2020, just over three weeks after she celebrated her 104th birthday. She was the last surviving major cast member from the 1939  film Gone with the Wind.

De Havilland was born in 1916 to British parents in Tokyo, Japan. Her parents split up when she was very young, and de Havilland and her sister, actress Joan Fontaine, moved with their mother to Saratoga, California. It was there that de Havilland caught the acting bug, and while performing in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Mills College in Oakland, she was discovered by director Max Reinhardt, who cast her in his own production of the play and, later, in the 1935 Warner Bros. motion picture of the famous Shakespearean comedy.


The brass at Warner Bros. were so impressed with de Havilland's work in the film that they signed her right away to a seven-year contract and her Hollywood career was off and running.

De Havilland remained active as an actress for more than 50 years,  earning five Academy Award nominations. She won a pair of Oscars for Best Actress in a Leading Role, for her work in To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949). (Her sister, Joan, wasn't far behind, with three Oscar nominations and one win in the Best Actress in a Leading Role category for her performance in 1941's Suspicion, directed by Alfred Hitchcock.)

It is for her portrayal of the gentle and loving Melanie Hamilton in the epic 1939 film Gone with the Wind, however, that de Havilland is perhaps best remembered today. Her performance earned an Academy Award nomination, her first, in the Best Actress in a Supporting Role category, though her GWTW castmate Hattie McDaniel took home the award that year for her portrayal of Mammy.


The only credited cast member from Gone with the Wind who is still living is Mickey Kuhn, 86, a former child actor who portrayed young Beau Wilkes in the picture.

Beginning in the mid-1950s, De Havilland made her home in Paris, France, enjoying good health while leading a more private existence. In 1962, she wrote a memoir, Every Frenchman Has One, detailing in lighthearted fashion her efforts to adjust to the Parisian way of life.

In June 2017, de Havilland was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to drama by Queen Elizabeth II. The oldest woman ever to receive the honor, de Havilland said in a statement that it was "the most gratifying of birthday presents."

As De Havilland once said, "Famous people feel that they must perpetually be on the crest of the wave, not realizing that it is against all the rules of life. You can't be on top all the time; it isn't natural." It would seem Ms. de Havilland adjusted very well indeed to a life lived (mostly) out of the spotlight, and now she lives on in the hearts and memories of movie fans around the world.

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