Obituary: Olivia de Havilland, star of Hollywood’s Golden Age

Dame Olivia de Havilland, who has died at 104 in Paris, was one of the last survivors of Hollywood’s Golden Age.Her most famous role was that of the virtuous Melanie opposite Vivien Leigh’s wayward Scarlett, in the epic Gone with the Wind.Her relationship with her sister, the actress Joan Fontaine, was a constant source of speculation in the gossip columns.

At the time of her death she was the oldest living performer to have won an Oscar.Olivia Mary de Havilland was born in Tokyo on 1 July 1916 to Walter, a British patent lawyer and his actress wife Lilian.Her paternal family originated in the Channel Islands; her cousin Geoffrey was the aircraft designer responsible for producing the famous World War Two plane, the Mosquito.Her sister Joan was born in 1917. Both girls suffered from bronchial problems and her mother moved the family to California in 1919 in search of a more agreeable climate.De Havilland’s father, who was notorious for his infidelities, soon abandoned them to return to Tokyo where he later married his Japanese housekeeper.

Lilian gave elocution and singing lessons to her two daughters and introduced them to the works of Shakespeare.In 1925 her mother married a department store owner, George M Fontaine, who imposed a strict regime on his two stepdaughters.By this time the sisters had embarked on what would become their legendary feud, caused – according to their biographer Charles Higham – by Olivia’s inability to accept a younger sibling.For her part, Joan thought her mother favoured Olivia, who Higham said enjoyed cutting up Joan’s clothes and forcing her to sew them back together again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *