Today is Olivia de Havilland’s 100th birthday! Olivia is probably best-known for playing Melanie “Mellie” Hamilton, Ashley Wilkes’ sweet wife-to-be and the eventual sister-in-law of Scarlett O’Hara in the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind. I became a fan of her through that role, Gone with the Wind being one of the first classic films I watched.
But Olivia is much more than just Mellie — she’s an incredibly talented woman who had a fascinating, varied career in Hollywood. Today, to celebrate her birthday, TMP will be sharing a few biographical notes and favorite roles from her filmography!
Olivia was born on July 1, 1916 in Tokyo, Japan to English parents, a lawyer and an actress. At the age of two, she moved to California, and by the age of 19 she had scored a contract with Warner Bros. Her younger sister Joan, born in 1917, would also become a Hollywood actress. Both sisters would become Oscar winners and were famously estranged, supposedly due to a professional rivalry.
Olivia took home Academy Awards for her leading turns in To Each His Own and The Heiress, but was nominated for three further Oscars and appeared in over fifty roles from the mid 1930s to her most recent performance in 1988. While she hasn’t returned to the screen since the ’80s, Olivia now lives in France, where she has resided since the mid-1950s.
As mentioned above, I first discovered Olivia through Gone with the Wind, which was one of my earliest classic film discoveries. In the years since, she’s secured a spot on my list of favorite actresses, and I’ve seen plenty more of her films. To celebrate her birthday, here are five of my favorites!
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
It would be very difficult to make a list of favorite Livvie films without mentioning at least one of her wonderful collaborations with leading man Errol Flynn. While it may seem a typical or unoriginal choice, given its popularity among the films of the two stars, The Adventures of Robin Hood features one of my very favorite Olivia de Havilland performances. Maid Marian is a polished, elegant woman who becomes involved with Robin and his merry band of change-makers. Marian and Robin are very different from each other, and seem amused by their differences. Errol and Olivia make such a wonderful pair, and this film serves as a quintessential example of their on-screen chemistry.
The Heiress (1949)
One of Olivia’s Oscar-winning roles, she gives what may be her career-best performance in this dramatic story of a sheltered woman who falls for a handsome stranger. Catherine Sloper is a young society woman in New York, living her with controlling father and her more agreeable aunt. Monty Clift is Morris, a handsome but poor man with whom Catherine begins to fall in love. This is no rosy romance, though. A series of speed-bumps bring complications and unhappiness for the couple. Catherine makes a great transformation through the course of the film and Olivia does a fantastic job with the character, perfectly portraying every little note of her personality, every transformation she makes throughout the film.
It’s Love I’m After (1937)
From adventure to drama to comedy, Livvie could do it all. She proved herself as an actress of incredible range, It’s Love I’m After being one of her strongest pieces of evidence! Olivia gives what I consider to be the funniest performance in the film (though it’s packed with great ones). Her character here is Marcia West, a fan of Leslie Howard’s stage star Basil Underwood. She’s such a fan of him, in fact, that she’s willing to give up her relationship with her fiancé for him. She thinks she’s in love! Her blind infatuation with Basil is hilarious to watch and while Leslie Howard and Bette Davis make a great pair in the film, Olivia steals many a scene.
My Love Came Back (1940)
Livvie takes the lead in this dramedy of a talented musician who is almost forced to drop out of the Brissac Academy of Music, but is saved from that fate by a wealthy man who owns a music equipment manufacturing company. Olivia brings both great comic timing and an emotional punch to her role of Amelia. She has great chemistry with Jane Wyman and Eddie Albert, who support as Amelia’s two best friends, and with Jeffrey Lynn, her love interest.
The Strawberry Blonde (1941)
Sharing the screen with such talents as James Cagney and Rita Hayworth, it would be difficult for anyone to steal a scene, but in The Strawberry Blonde, Olivia somehow manages to steal the whole film! Her role is that of Amy, best friend to the “Strawberry Blonde” herself, Virginia (Rita Hayworth). Best buds Biff (James Cagney) and Hugo (Jack Carson) both fall for Virginia, while Amy finds herself falling for Biff. Amy is a great character for Olivia, a spunky woman interested in more than just a romance with Biff — she’s a suffragette, and quite an outspoken one. Olivia gives a wonderful performance and shares a great on-screen friendship with Rita Hayworth, whose character is in many ways Amy’s opposite.
Olivia has become one of those actresses I will watch in absolutely anything. Even in films less impressive than those listed above, her performances shine. Happy birthday to Ms. de Havilland, a genuinely gifted actress celebrating 100 years!
Great choices! These five are among my top favorites of her films as well.
It’s difficult to choose favorites with an actress like Olivia. She made so many wonderful films. But I do think these are among her best! Thanks for reading. :)
Very true! She made a good variety of films too, and I think you illustrated that well here. :)
The Strawberry Blonde is a personal favourite for me, while Robin Hood and The Heiress are both fantastic too – and all the films are so different. Must confess I haven’t seen the other 2 you chose here yet, but will hope to put that right.
Yes, all very different from each other. I love the variety of Olivia’s filmography. No matter what you’re in the mood to watch, there’s probably a Livvie film to suit your mood haha. I hope you do get the chance to watch those last two soon!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I was first introduced to Olivia with ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’, one of my all-time favorites. I’ve never seen the other four films listed above, but you make them sound so cool, I’ll have to to search them out. Especially ‘The Strawberry Blonde’…Hayworth AND Cagney!
Yes, such an all-star cast in The Strawberry Blonde! It’s a great watch — all four of these flicks will definitely be worth your time.
That was a nice survey of Olivia De Havilland’s career. I have not seen The Strawberry Blonde for many years, but I remember her part.
Thanks for reading! :)
This blogathon is making my TBW list grow by leaps and bounds. You’ve got me wanting to see both The Strawberry Blonde and It’s Love I’m After. Great write-ups of all these films!
Hope you get the chance to watch them soon! Blogathons are always great for growing the TBW list, haha. Thanks for reading! :)
You’ve given me two new-to-me films to add to my list. Looks like I have some great viewing ahead! ;)
You certainly do! Hope you enjoy them as much as I do! :)
LikeLiked by 1 person
Great list!! I especially love that you have My Love Came Back on here :) I can’t wait to see It’s Love I’m After! And I love Olivia’s winking in The Strawberry Blonde.
Thanks so much for joining the Blogathon!!!
I also discovered Olivia through Gone with the Wind. And I loved your list! Her transformation in The Heiress is amazing, and proves how fantastic she is as an actress.
Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! (it’s about The Strawberry Blonde) :)