Is there anyone out there who hasn’t seen Gone with the Wind and felt the urge to buddy up to Melanie? That’s just one of the incredibly memorable roles played by Dame Olivia de Havilland, the British-American-French actress who turned 103 on July 1. In her career, which stretched from 1935 to 1988, she appeared in 49 feature films and was emblematic of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Her rise began in swashbucklers with Errol Flynn—movies like Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood. By playing Melanie, who won the heart of Ashley Wilkes (much to Scarlett O’Hara’s dismay) in GWTW, she cemented her star status. Olivia earned an Oscar nomination for that role, as well as her work in Hold Back the Dawn and The Snake Pit. And she did indeed snag top honors, winning the Best Actress category for To Each His Own and The Heiress.
The Stunning Sisters
If you’re a film buff, you may recall that her younger sister was the actress Joan Fontaine, who beat her out for the golden statuette in 1941. They are the only siblings to both be awarded an Oscar in a leading acting category. (Their relationship was known to be strained; Joan died in 2013 at age 96.)
But back to Olivia: Beyond big-screen stardom, she found success on Broadway and TV, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. Married twice and a mother of two, Olivia relocated to Paris when she wed her second husband in 1955. She still lives there, largely out of the public eye, but she made news in 2018 when she filed a lawsuit against producer Ryan Murphy for using her likeness without her consent in the FX production Feud: Bette and Joan.
As her legal team filed the petition, Olivia said, “We must persevere and speak truth to power…The fight is itself important to the principle of honesty, so much in need today in the face of deliberate public confusion for selfish agendas.” The Supreme Court decided not to review the case, but we love that Olivia fought for what she believes in. What an amazing role model of a passionate, committed centenarian—not to mention a mesmerizing talent.
Happy Birthday, Olivia—you are an Aging Boldly icon!