Gone With The Wind star Olivia de Havilland dies at 104

Olivia Mary de Havilland was born on July 1, 1916, and was married twice. PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (NYTIMES) - Olivia de Havilland, an actress who gained movie immortality in Gone With The Wind (1939), then built an illustrious film career punctuated by a successful fight to loosen studios' grip on contract actors, died on Sunday (July 26) at her home in Paris. She was 104 and one of the last surviving stars of Hollywood's fabled Golden Age.

Her death was confirmed by her publicist Lisa Goldberg.

Although she was typecast early in her career as the demure ingenue, she went on to earn meatier roles that led to five Academy Award nominations, two of which brought her the Oscar, for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949).

Those roles came to her in no small part because of the resolve she showed when she stood up to the studios and won a battle that helped push Hollywood into the modern era. She had shown similar grit a decade earlier, in her breakthrough role, when she held her own against her formidable co-stars - Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh and Leslie Howard - in Gone With The Wind as Melanie Hamilton Wilkes.

Warner had signed de Havilland to a seven-year contract in 1935. After her success in Gone With The Wind, de Havilland expected more challenging roles. For the most part, they did not materialise.

One exception was Hold Back The Dawn (1941). Her performance earned her another Oscar nomination, but this time, she lost to her sister Joan Fontaine, who won for Suspicion (1941).

The two were rarely on speaking terms after that. They are the only sisters to win Best Actress Academy Awards, and their sibling rivalry was called the fiercest in Hollywood history.

The formula roles kept coming. When de Havilland complained, she was told that she had been hired because she photographed well and that she was not required to act.

She began to refuse roles she considered inferior. Warner retaliated by suspending her several times, for a total of six months, and, after her contract expired, insisting that because of the suspensions, she was still the studio's property for six more months.

De Havilland sued. The case dragged on for a year and a half, but the California Supreme Court upheld a lower-court ruling in her favour in 1945. What became known as the de Havilland decision established that a studio could not arbitrarily extend the duration of an actor's contract.

But she did not love Hollywood, and in the 1950s she abandoned it to live in Paris with a new husband, though she kept her American citizenship.

Olivia Mary de Havilland was born on July 1, 1916, and was married twice. Both marriages ended in divorce.

The first, in 1946, was to Marcus Aurelius Goodrich, a Texas-born novelist, screenwriter and journalist; they had a son, Benjamin, and divorced in 1952. She married Pierre Galante, the author of military histories and at one point editor of the magazine Paris Match, in 1955 after the couple met in France. They moved to Paris, had a daughter, Gisele, and divorced in 1979. De Havilland's son died of Hodgkin's disease in 1991.

She is survived by her daughter, Giselle Galante Chulack. Fontaine died in 2013 at 96.

From the mid-1960s onward, de Havilland's acting was largely confined to sporadic roles in television series. In 1965, she became the first woman to head the jury at the Cannes Film Festival. She returned to feature films only occasionally, among them the hugely successful 1977 disaster movie Airport '77 and her last Hollywood film The Fifth Musketeer (1979).

In 2010, Nicolas Sarkozy, then the president of France, awarded her the Legion d'Honneur. In 1999, she was honoured with a party in Paris to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Gone With The Wind.

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