Happy Birthday, Dame Olivia

If I live to see 100, make that 101, let me live it like Olivia de Havilland, with class, humor…and in Paris.

Just last week, days before her birthday, she was given a damehood by Queen Elizabeth II for her services to drama. She is the oldest woman to receive this honor.

Dame Olivia was one of the top actresses of her time, with a career that spanned decades. She gained the respect of audiences and colleagues alike. But she represented more than just glamour and success. Through the influence gained by her talent, she fought for others, those without a voice, and changed lives as a result.

Olivia  de Havilland 1945
Publicity photo, circa 1945

A working woman in a sexist environment, she held her own against those who would pull her down and managed one of the most successful long-term careers in Hollywood history.

I’m far from the only one to take note of Dame Olivia’s qualities, now and then. In February 2016, The Oldie magazine, a satirical publication from London fighting ageism, named her “Oldie of the Year.”

Her response to that honor was delight and delightful. Over the years, her wit has shown in so many of her personal appearances, with a smile and a wink at life.

My fascination with and appreciation of Dame Olivia de Havilland began when I was high school, at the same school she had graduated from in 1934, Los Gatos High School in Los Gatos, Calif.

The summer between my junior and senior years I had a job working in the school library, and my tasks included repairing older books. One of those was the school’s 1934 yearbook, and the librarians turned a blind eye as I spent a little too much time looking for all mention of her. Even then, she stood out from her peers in her poise and class in front of a camera.

Classic movie fans, indeed anybody familiar with her work,

will know her best for two roles, as Melanie in Gone With the Wind and as the dashing Errol Flynn’s most frequent leading lady.

Olivia de Havilland as Melanie
As Melanie in “Gone With the Wind”

She was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her work in Gone With the Wind in 1939, but it wasn’t until she starred in the phenomenal film To Each His Own in 1946 that she won her first Oscar, for Best Actress in a Leading Role. That was followed three years later by the same award for one of my favorite of her films, The Heiress.

In between those two wins, she received a Best Actress nomination for The Snake Pit, a ground-breaking film about the treatment of the mentally ill. Bringing those images to the screen created public awareness of the plight of millions, and those who suffer from mental illness today can be thankful for her work in what I hope & pray is now a long-outdated portrayal of institutionalization.

She had one sister, the late Joan Fontaine. Miss Fontaine was a year younger, and the two are the only sisters in Academy Award history to each win an Oscar for Best Actress.

For those who aren’t aware,

in Hollywood’s early years what was known as the studio system reigned, in which actors and actresses were under contract and controlled by the strict standards and seeming whims of the studio executives. Dame Olivia took her studio, Columbia Pictures, to court in 1943 and won, and the resulting decision changed labor laws, greatly reduced studio power and began the decline of the contract system.

As a result it was almost impossible for her to find work for a couple of years, but at the end of that time she began a comeback that reduced that gap in her work to a non-entity in her overall career.

Perhaps there were times in those years when she wondered if she should have been the one to take that stand. Even if she never wavered in her pride in her decision, she likely cried or otherwise railed over the blacklisting of her talent. I don’t know enough about her to know what her reaction may have been, except it would have been human.

She has stood her ground again, and filed a lawsuit against the FX network, suing for infringement of common law right of publicity, invasion of privacy and unjust enrichment. Her claim is based on the “inherently untrue” portrayal of her as a bitchy gossip-monger, something records readily available to producers would show to be false.

She was, rather, known to be gracious and kind, a woman who refrained from gossip and treated all with respect and dignity.

Olivia de Havilland, National Medal of the Arts 2008
With President George W. Bush, receiving the National Medal of Arts

Although she is an American citizen, Dame Olivia has lived in Paris since 1960. She continued to act until the 1980s, and her last major public event was in 2008 when she was presented with the National Medal of Arts.

Our high school has an annual award, “The De Havilland Cup,” given to a student for a monologue performance.  That tradition has lasted more than 70 years, and I expect it will continue for many more to come. It is a fine tribute to her talent and dedication to her craft, for it takes both those qualities to win this award.

Dame Olivia de Havilland was a force in Hollywood, and remains a strong & gracious woman. She is one of the last living stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, that wonderful era from the 30s to 40s.*

Happy 101st birthday, Dame Olivia, and congratulations for a long and marvelous career, for your dignity and poise, for representing the best for working women everywhere.


*Those familiar with the “Golden Age of Hollywood” know that much of the work created during that time was a product of the studio system. It was a wonderful era for film, but not so much, perhaps, for many of the actors and actresses.

Header Image Credits, clockwise from top left: 1) With Errol Flynn in Captain Blood; 2) With Bette Davis in In This Our Life; 3) With George Brent in In This Our Life; 4) With Montgomery Clift in The Heiress; 5) With Jack Carson in The Male Animal; 6) In Princess O’Rourke. Reviews for these films can be found on Classic for a Reason.

Six–okay, Seven–Films that Remain Relevant

Here are seven classic movies with messages that still resonate, with one or two seeming darn near prescient.

Of course dozens of other films from the same era these were produced are as relevant, funny, touching or otherwise worth watching today.

It should be noted all of these movies were made during the time the Production Code was firmly in place, making them conservative and downright tame by today’s standards. Still, the women are strong, something characteristic of many of the female roles of the 30s and 40s, yet ironically an element that began to be lost when the Code was phasing out.

And yes, this is blatant cross-promotion for my other blog, Classic for a Reason, with links to the full reviews you’ll find there. Thank you for visiting that blog, and for that matter, thank you for visiting this one!

Woman of the Year

Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn
Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn

The film which brought Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy together. Their chemistry is palpable, but that isn’t the only thing that makes this movie noteworthy today. Hepburn plays a highly capable, skilled woman who has a hard time adjusting to marriage, and Tracy is the long-suffering husband with the wisdom that could save their relationship. Wisdom that still means something in the 21st century.


It Should Happen to You

jack-lemmon-judy-holliday-together-in-it-should-happen-to-you
Jack Lemmon, Judy Holliday

This film was released in 1954, but it predicts today’s phenomenon of “being famous for being famous.” Judy Holliday plays the not-so-dumb blonde who wants more in life than what she sees as her inevitable lot, and makes the questionable decision to have her name splashed across giant billboards throughout New York City. Also starring Jack Lemmon in his first major screen role. A delightful tale, written by Garson Kanin.


The Lost Weekend

Featured Image -- 15194
Ray Milland, Jane Wyman

The first film to depict alcoholism in a realistic manner, close to everything in this movie rings true today. There are a few stylistic elements that date the film, and perhaps a handful of aspects of the story line are distinctly from the era, but overall, this film is as timeless as, sadly, the plight of the alcoholic appears to be.


The Best Years of Our Lives

best years of our lives 1
Harold Russell, Dana Andrews, Fredric March

The tale of three serviceman adjusting to civilian life after serving in WWII, it is, in a larger sense, the story of anyone adjusting to a major change in his or her life. Subtle details fill out an already expansive story. While the starring roles all went to men, the supporting cast has several strong performances from top-notch actresses, including Myrna Loy. Winner of nine Academy Awards (with two of them going to Harold Russell, the only time an actor has won two Oscars for the same performance) and one of the best pictures of the 1940s.


The Women

Rosaline Russell, Joan Crawford
Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford

Not the weak 2008 remake, but the original from 1939, it looks at a tale as old as marriage and all the ways women can influence each other in their choices. Witty, sharp and sometimes biting, this is a classic like none other, with an all-female cast that includes many of the top actresses of the day. Based on the racy play by Clare Boothe Luce and made acceptable for Code standards by two clever screenwriters, Jane Murfin and Anita Loos.


In This Our Life

bette-davis-olivia-de-havilland-in-this-our-life
Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland

This not-so-well-known film starring Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland is not among director John Huston’s finest works. Still, it is worth the watch, if for no other reason than the performance of Ernest Anderson, who plays a young black man unjustly accused of a violent crime he had no part of, and the raw truth, then and now, of racism in our legal system. In fact, the movie was banned from release overseas because of its overt realism dealing with racial issues. Based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel by Ellen Glasgow.


And a seventh film I featured in an earlier similar post, but it’s worth repeating…we all know an Eve Harrington, and this is one of the greatest films of all time…

All About Eve

bette-davis-anne-baxter-all-about-eve
Bette Davis, Anne Baxter

Sweet, baby-faced Eve isn’t who she first seems to be, and Margo Channing is faced with losing her status as the darling of the theatre-going public to this conniving up-and-comer.  Bette Davis in one of her finest roles, with a great cast, including an Oscar-winning performance by George Sanders and a brief, yet memorable, appearance by Marilyn Monroe.


Hollywood Legend Olivia de Havilland

If I live to see 100, let me live it like Olivia de Havilland, with class, humor…and in Paris.

Miss de Havilland was one of the top actresses of her time, with a career that spanned decades. She gained the respect of audiences and colleagues alike. But she represented more than just glamour and success. Through the influence gained by her talent, she fought for others, those without a voice, and changed lives as a result.

Olivia  de Havilland 1945
Publicity photo, c. 1945

A working woman in a sexist environment, she held her own against those who would pull her down and managed one of the most successful long-term careers in Hollywood history.

I’m far from the only one to take note of Miss de Havilland’s qualities, now and then. In February 2016, The Oldie magazine, a satirical publication from London fighting ageism, named her “Oldie of the Year.”

Her response to that honor was delight and delightful. Over the years, her wit has shown in so many of her personal appearances, with a smile and a wink at life.

My fascination with and appreciation of Olivia de Havilland began when I was high school, at the same school she had graduated from in 1934, Los Gatos High School in Los Gatos, Calif.

The summer between my junior and senior years I had a job working in the school library, and my tasks included repairing older books. One of those was the school’s 1934 yearbook, and the librarians turned a blind eye as I spent a little too much time looking for all mention of her. Even then, she stood out from her peers in her poise and class in front of a camera.

 Classic movie fans, indeed anybody familiar with her work,
Olivia de Havilland as Melanie
As Melanie in “Gone With the Wind.”

will know her best for two roles, as Melanie in Gone With the Wind and as the dashing Errol Flynn’s most frequent leading lady.

She was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her work in Gone With the Wind in 1939, but it wasn’t until she starred in the phenomenal film To Each His Own in 1946 that she won her first Oscar, for Best Actress in a Leading Role. That was followed three years later by the same award for one of my favorite of her films, The Heiress.

In between those two wins, she received a Best Actress nomination for The Snake Pit, a ground-breaking film about the treatment of the mentally ill. Bringing those images to the screen created public awareness of the plight of millions, and those who suffer from mental illness today can be thankful for her work in what I hope & pray is now a long-outdated portrayal of institutionalization.

She had one sister, the late Joan Fontaine. Miss Fontaine was a year younger, and the two are the only sisters in Academy Award history to each win an Oscar for Best Actress.

For those who aren’t aware,

in Hollywood’s early years what was known as the studio system reigned, in which actors and actresses were under contract and controlled by the strict standards and seeming whims of the studio executives. Miss de Havilland took her studio, Columbia Pictures, to court in 1943 and won, and the resulting decision changed labor laws, greatly reduced studio power and began the decline of the contract system.

As a result it was almost impossible for her to find work for a couple of years, but at the end of that time she began a comeback that reduced that gap in her work to a non-entity in her overall career.

Perhaps there were times in those years when she wondered if she should have been the one to take that stand. Even if she never wavered in her pride in her decision, she likely cried or otherwise railed over the blacklisting of her talent. I don’t know enough about her to know what her reaction may have been, except it would have been human.

Olivia de Havilland, National Medal of the Arts 2008
With President George W. Bush at the National Medal of Arts ceremony in 2008.

Although she is an American citizen, Miss de Havilland has lived in Paris since 1960. She continued to act until the 1980s, and her last major public event was in 2008 when she was presented with the National Medal of Arts.

Our high school has an annual award, “The De Havilland Cup,” given to a student for a monologue performance.  That tradition has lasted more than 70 years, and I expect it will continue for many more to come. It is a fine tribute to her talent and dedication to her craft, for it takes both those qualities to win this award.

Olivia de Havilland was a force in Hollywood, and remains a strong & gracious woman. She is one of the last living stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood, that wonderful era from the 30s to 40s.*

Congratulations, Miss de Havilland, for a long and marvelous career, for your dignity and poise, for representing the best for working women everywhere.


*Those familiar with the “Golden Age of Hollywood” know that much of the work that was created during that time was a product of the studio system. It was a wonderful era for film, but not so much, perhaps, for many of the actors and actresses.

Header Image Credits, clockwise from top left: 1) With Errol Flynn in Captain Blood; 2) With Bette Davis in In This Our Life; 3) With George Brent in In This Our Life; 4) With Montgomery Clift in The Heiress; 5) With Jack Carson in The Male Animal; 6) In Princess O’Rourke. Reviews for these films can be found on Classic for a Reason.