The remarkable Olivia de Havilland turns 100 years old today. And it tickles me deeply and sincerely that we share the same birthday July 1st, so while I should be celebrating my own turn of the wheel, I felt it important to join in with so many others who recognize de Havilland’s enormous contribution to cinema and whose lasting grace and beauty still shines so effervescently.
And so… I’d like to pay a little tribute to a few of my favorite performances of this grand lady!
Olivia de Havilland won the Academy Award for Best Actress in To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949) and nominated for her incredible performance in The Snake Pit (1948), Hold Back the Dawn (1941), and Supporting Actress as the gentle, stoic but powerful strong Melanie in Gone With the Wind (1939).
Olivia de Havilland never shied away from taking on challenging roles, whether she played the archetypal ‘bad’ woman or the ‘good’ woman this astonishing actress could convey either nature with the ease of a jaguar who stirs with inner pride and purpose.
She still possesses that certain inner quality that is a quiet, dignified beauty whose layers unravel in each performance. Consider her heart wrenching portrayal of the emotionally disturbed Virginia Stuart Cunningham thrown into poignant turmoil when she finds herself within the walls of a mental institution but doesn’t remember her husband (Mark Stevens) or how or why she is there. It’s an astounding performance in director Anatole Litvak’s The Snake Pit (1948)
The New York Film Critics awarded Olivia de Havilland Best Actress for The Snake Pit (1948). She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a leading role.
Olivia de Havilland threw herself into the role of Virginia by getting up close and personal with mental health treatments of the time. She observed patients and the various modalities that were used in these institutions like, doctor/patient therapy sessions, electric shock therapy and hydrotherapy and attended social events like dances within the institution.
Here’s just a mention of some of my favorite performances by this great Dame of cinema, who as Robert Osborne so aptly spoke of her “… the ever present twinkle in her eyes or the wisdom you sense behind those orbs.”
Reunited with Bette Davis she and Olivia play sisters Stanley and Roy Timberlake, in director John Huston’s In This Our Life 1942 where Bette steals Roy’s fiancée (George Brent).
In director Robert Siodmak’s psychological thriller The Dark Mirror (1946) Olivia de Havilland plays duel roles as dichotomous identical twins, one purely good the other inherently evil.
With Montgomery Clift in director William Wyler’s The Heiress 1949 Oilvia de Havilland plays the timid & naive Catherine Sloper who falls under the spell of opportunist Morris Townsend (Clift).
In director Stanley Kramer’s melodrama Olivia de Havilland plays doctor Kristina Hedvigson who gets involved with the egotistical Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum) in Not as a Stranger (1955)
George Hamilton, Olivia, Rossano Brazzi and Yvette Mimieux on the set of Light in the Piazza (1962) filmed in Florence Italy. de Havilland plays Meg Johnson whose daughter having suffered a head injury has left her developmentally challenged. Both mother and daughter are seduced by the romantic atmosphere of Florence.
Now we come to a very powerful performance that of Mrs. Cornelia Hilyard one of Olivia’s most challenging roles as she is besieged upon by psychotic home invaders, James Caan, Jennifer Billingsley, Rafael Campos, Jeff Corey and Ann Southern who hold the uptight American matriarch in her gilded house elevator when the electricity goes out and the animals get in, in Walter Grauman’s brutal vision of the American Dream inverted. Lady in a Cage (1964)
Olivia de Havilland replaced Joan Crawford when tensions built on the set of the follow up to What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? 1962, the Grande Dame Guignol psychological thriller. Olivia de Havilland brought her own wardrobe and was not a stranger to pulling out the darker side of her acting self, portraying in my opinion perhaps one of the most vile and virulent antagonists the cunningly evil Cousin Miriam in director Robert Aldrich’s Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte 1964
Happy Birthday Grand Dame Olivia de Havilland… You are what puts the shine in the word ‘star’ forever vibrant and beloved by your fans and this girl who is honored to share your birthday! Hope it’s a grand day! Your EverLovin’ Joey