|As Maid Marion in The Adventures of Robin Hood|
De Havilland was one of the last links to Hollywood’s Golden Age, having starred in so many classic films. Ironically, it was her lawsuit against Warner Brothers that helped bring down the studio system. She sued the studio for adding six months to her seven-year contract and won. Her court victory was known as the “de Havilland decision.” She was blackballed for a time by all the major studios, but she fought back and eventually reached heights few actresses ever attain.
In 1945, de Havilland signed a two-picture deal with Paramount. Her first film for that studio was The Well Groomed Bride co-starring Ray Milland, but it would her second Paramount release that would launch her career to the next level. As an unwed mother who gives up her child for adoption in Michell Leisen’s To Each His Own (1946), she won her first Best Actress Academy Award. Better roles continued with Robert Siodmak’s The Dark Mirror (1946) where she played identical twins—one good, the other a psychotic killer. One of her best roles was as Virginia Cunningham in Anatole Litvak’s The Snake Pit (1948). The film dealt with the treatment of patients suffering from mental illness under severe conditions at a state-run mental institution. The film’s success helped bring about many changes in mental hospitals.
William Wyler tapped de Havilland for the lead in The Heiress (1949). The movie was based on the Henry James novel Washington Square. For her performance, she won the New York Film Critics Award, the Golden Globe, and the Academy Award for Best Actress. Now a two-time Oscar winner, de Havilland’s services were in demand by top directors and studios. Elia Kazan wanted her for the role of Blache DuBois in his film version of A Streetcar Named Desire (1950), but she turned it down. Her Gone with the Wind co-star Vivien Leigh ended up playing Blanche, winning her second Best Actress Oscar in the process. Besides her work on the screen, de Havilland appeared on Broadway in Romeo and Juliet and Candida, taking the latter on the road.
|Celeste Holm (left) and Olivia de Havilland in The Snake Pit|
|Olivia de Havilland (left) with Yvette Mimiuex in Light in the Piazza|
This brief obituary of de Havilland is only a small slice of her talent and impact on Hollywood during its most creative period. Thankfully we have her tremendous body of work which will live on for generations to come.