Olivia de Havilland on June 18 (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Legendary actress Olivia de Havilland will be ringing in her 100th birthday today and she tells People she’ll be celebrating the milestone event with dinner and drinks with “dear, dear” friends. In next week’s issue of People, the five-time Oscar nominee opens up about her life, career and romances.
Born in Japan of English parentage, naturalized and raised in Los Angeles, de Havilland has been an internationally recognized film star for over eight decades. Since her 1935 debut in Midsummer Night’s Dream and eight on-screen romances with Errol Flynn, she’s been slapped around by Bette Davis in Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte and starred in Lady in a Cage with James Caan and opposite Montgomery Clift in The Heiress. Probably best known for her role as the sweet Melanie Wilkes in Gone With the Wind, now de Havilland says she’s “honored” to be called the last star of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
De Havilland, who has lived for over 60 years “in Paris in a little white house, as tall and narrow as a chimney,” says she is “content with the role that life has given me: a centenarian!” Asked if there’s any advice she’d give to her younger self, she replies, “Take a long leave of absence from the Warner contract and go to Mills College, where the scholarship I had won in 1934 is still waiting for me!”
In her exceptionally frank back and forth, Hollywood’s most elegant legend discusses many aspects of her personal and professional life, her friends, fabled romances (they’re not whom you expect) and touched on a number of her film roles – including two surprising classics she turned down: It’s a Wonderful Life and A Streetcar Named Desire.
In the midst of her Hollywood career and a divorce, de Havilland uprooted to France. Invited to attend the 1953 Cannes Film Festival where, 12 years later, she was the first woman to ever to be named President of the festival jury, she arrived in France for her very first-ever visit and in extremely short order – met and “married the very first Frenchman I’d met in France,” had a daughter and, bought the Paris home she has lived in since.
On the occasion of her 100th birthday, Crown Archetype/Random House is reissuing Every Frenchman Has One, her delightful 1962 memoir.
Her Paris townhouse, packed with memories, is still the site of an occasional champagne garden party and has become a landmark and pilgrimage for many. Including Jared Leto.
Long before anyone coined the “gender equality” phrase she was a pioneer who took on and beat the studio system. She is, in fact, one of a very, very precious few who can claim having both a star on Hollywood Boulevard and a California law (Labor Code Section 2855) named for them. After she challenged Warner Bros over the terms of her contract, the 1944 de Havilland Decision, “made it clear that California law limits to seven years the time an employer can enforce a contract with an employee.”
In 2010, de Havilland began corresponding (she’s very much into email and hand-written notes) with Leto, whose attorneys were citing it as precedent to exit him from a recording contract. “I was more than surprised to hear from Jared Leto,” she tells People. “I was enchanted! He came to my house to thank me for the de Havilland Decision, which he and his band, 30 Seconds to Mars, had utilized victoriously in a similar contractual dispute. “It’s wonderful knowing that the Decision continues to be useful to artists and other professionals these many years later.”