by Cayce McCarthy - Arts and Entertainment
Two time Academy Award winner actress Olivia De Havilland celebrated her 102nd birthday Monday. De Havilland is most famous for her role as Melanie in the war story film, Gone With the Wind. Like a respectable number of Brits, De Havilland got her start in acting by delving into the world of Shakespeare however, her first stage debut was Alice in Wonderland in the year 1933.
The Shakespeare play that helped pave her way to fame was A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream that was directed by Mark Reinhardt who was then asked by Warner Brother Studios to direct their film adaption of the play. De Havilland already played Hermina for Reinhardt on stage and got the role for the film in 1934; which was the beginning of her 7-year contract with Warner. For the most part, De Havilland ended up being typecast as eye-candy or the love interest for the male lead of any Warner film.
De Havilland at first wasn’t legally allowed to do Gone With the Wind since she was still under contractual agreement with Warner Bros. In fact, De Havilland had to sneak to the audition, was turned down once by Jack Warner, and had to arrange a meeting with his wife in order to get the part. This became problematic for the actress that was interested in more in-depth roles than what Warner was doing. At times she would refuse to do films and had to take unpaid suspensions while she waited for her contract to end in 1943.
That was easier said than done due to the fact that the California Labor Law favored employers back in the day and the studio felt entitled to six more months of work along with taking on her suspension penalties to the end of her contract. This was enough to cause the young 27 years old to sue Warner out of her contract; a case which lead all the way to the Supreme Court where she won. The law changed to permit actors to have exactly seven years and this law was expanded to studios and record deals by actor/performer Jared Leto. There is a recent 2011 version of the law, nicknamed the De Havilland Law, however, it has been argued that it needs to change again after what happened to the singer Kesha back in 2016.
Kesha tried to get out of her contract to get away from the man who raped her but was forced to continue to work for him until her contract was up. As for De Havilland, she now lives in France and starred in her last film, a TV film, The Woman He Loved back in 1988. Throughout her career, she has done 60 film projects. Last year De Havilland received the title of a Dame during Queen Elizabeth II birthday honors. De Havilland is the last living member of the Gone With the Wind cast and got to witness its DVD release and 75th anniversary.
De Havilland starred in several movies with Errol Flynn, the two most famous being Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood. It was her role in Gone With the Wind that got her nominated for best supporting role however, she lost to fellow castmate Hattie McDaniel, who was the first African American actress to win. But De Havilland was nominated four times and won for the two films Two Each His Own and The Heiress. The other film she was nominated for was her lead role in Hold Back the Dawn.