Olivia de Havilland, Oscar winner who starred in 'Gone With the Wind,' dies at 104

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Actress Olivia de Havilland, seen at the 2003 Oscars, has died at age 104. (Photo: REUTERS/Mike Blake)
Actress Olivia de Havilland, seen at the 2003 Oscars, has died at age 104. (Photo: REUTERS/Mike Blake)

Olivia de Havilland, the dignified and dogged Oscar-winning actress and last surviving star of Gone With the Wind who feuded with sister Joan Fontaine, and bucked the old Hollywood studio system, died in her sleep on Saturday, July 25, Entertainment Weekly reports. She was 104.

“Last night, the world lost an international treasure, and I lost a dear friend and beloved client. She died peacefully in Paris,” the star’s former lawyer, Suzelle M. Smith, said in a statement to Variety.

A fighter to the end, de Havilland marked the day before her 101st birthday with a lawsuit: On June 30, 2017, she sued FX and producer Ryan Murphy over her depiction in the Emmy-winning backstage docudrama series Feud: Bette and Joan. In 2018, the California Court of Appeal of the Second District ruled against de Havilland, and her attempt to appeal the decision was declined.

Related: Olivia de Havilland on how she really feels about 'Feud'

During a screen career that endured for more than 50 years, de Havilland won two Best Actress Oscars, her first for 1947's To Each His Own and then for 1950's The Heiress

De Havilland and Fontaine, a Best Actress winner for 1942's Suspicion, are the only siblings and sisters in Oscar history to have each claimed a statuette in the lead-acting categories. 

De Havilland was nominated for a total of five Academy Awards. Other notable credits include The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Snake Pit

Her most famous screen performance was as the unwaveringly good Melanie Wilkes in Gone With the Wind. Released in 1939 when de Havilland was just 23, the Civil War epic won eight Oscars and reigned as the all-time box-office champ for more than 25 years. When its grosses are adjusted for inflation, the movie remains Hollywood's top money-maker, though this year it has been at the center of controversy regarding its depictions of slavery and now comes with a disclaimer on HBO Max.

Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable and Leslie Howard, whose characters along with de Havilland's comprised Gone With the Wind's central love quadrangle, all passed away decades ago. The other featured members of the cast are gone, too, including Hattie McDaniel, who beat out de Havilland for the 1939 Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

De Havilland played Melanie in <em>Gone with the Wind</em>. (Photo: Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)
De Havilland played Melanie in Gone with the Wind. (Photo: Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)

When asked about her status as the lone living link to the film, de Havilland observed, "That's strange because Melanie is the only one who dies in the movie." 

Born July 1, 1916, in Tokyo to British parents, de Havilland first made an impression as the girl to Errol Flynn's swashbuckling boy in a series of films, starting with 1935's Captain Blood, and including the early color entry 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood

In all, de Havilland and Flynn made eight movies together. The couple, however, was never romantically involved, de Havilland insisted.

As a young single in Hollywood, de Havilland dated the likes of James Stewart and director John Huston.

In the public imagination, her love life was not nearly as compelling as the stony silence she maintained with her sister.

Fontaine, just 15 months de Havilland's junior, made her film debut the same year as her sibling. And while de Havilland scored the first Oscar nomination for the family (for Gone With the Wind), Fontaine took home the first Academy Award.  

The 1947 Oscars proved a turning point for the sisters' long-tenuous relationship. When de Havilland took the trophy for the sentimental weepie To Each His Own, Fontaine went backstage to offer congratulations. As the press looked on, de Havilland blew past her. 

"Our relations have been strained for some time — I couldn't change my attitude," de Havilland told the Associated Press at the time.

The sisters' cold war thawed in the 1950s and 1960s, but returned to a deep freeze following their mothers' death in 1975. The two never spoke again. Fontaine died in 2013 at age 96.  

Arguably, de Havilland left her biggest mark when she took on the all-powerful movie studios — and won. 

"The motion-picture business is not easy," de Havilland once said. "It was not easy then." 

In 1944, a de Havilland complaint against Warner Bros. resulted in a court ruling that said studios couldn't unilaterally keep their stars under contract for longer than seven years. 

Joan Fontaine and sister Olivia de Havilland famously feuded. (Photo: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
Joan Fontaine and sister Olivia de Havilland famously feuded. (Photo: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

After helping remake the movie industry, the so-called de Havilland Law became routinely cited in record-company disputes involving everyone from Courtney Love to Jared Leto. In 2009, Leto revealed that he'd reached out to de Havilland during a label war involving his band, 30 Seconds to Mars.

"It was a real thrill to communicate with her, a real honor," Leto told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. 

After challenging the status quo, de Havilland saw career grow to greater heights. Both of her Oscars and three of her nominations came in the wake of the court case.

In the 1950s, de Havilland moved to Paris for a marriage that didn't last. And while she returned to Hollywood for work, she never returned to the industry town to live. "The French make me feel that I am more attractive now than I was when I was 20," the fortysomething de Havilland said

Like many actresses of her era, de Havilland turned to thrillers and horror in the 1960s. (Indeed, Feud is about the making of Joan Crawford's and Bette Davis' What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) Among de Havilland's credits from that time: Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, which costarred Davis, and Lady in a Cage

The 1970s saw turns in the all-star disaster movies Airport '77 and The Swarm.

De Havilland returned to the Civil War with the 1986 TV mini-series, North and South, Book II, one of her last roles. She is considered to have retired from acting in 1988. 

Audiences of 2017's Feud saw de Havilland portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones.  

At age 86, de Havilland brought the audience at the 2003 Academy Awards to its collective feet when she was feted as part of the 75th anniversary show's salute to past winners. 

Looking back on all that she'd seen and endured, de Havilland said in 2009, "I feel like a survivor from an age that people no longer understand." 

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