A Hollywood star for the ages still outshines them all.
The divine Miss D: Almost seventy years ago, in 1947, a thirty-year-old Olivia de Havilland won the first of two Best Actress Oscars, which have graced the star’s home in Paris for over half a century.
The last, incandescent flicker of Hollywood’s great golden age lives on, not in the shady confines of Bel-Air, but rather on a small, cobblestone street in the heart of Paris’s immaculate, gleaming sixteenth arrondissement. This July 1, Olivia de Havilland, the oldest living actor who has won an Academy Award (make that two, in fact), celebrates her 100th birthday a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. Somehow fitting. Elegant but famously feisty, de Havilland, most renowned for her role as Melanie in Gone With the Wind (and the only living cast member of that original mega-movie), not only won Best Actress Oscars for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949), she also broke cinematic ground for her part in the much lauded The Snake Pit (1948), a brave portrayal completely devoid of glamour that pointed up the horrors of U.S. mental-health institutions at the time. More significantly, de Havilland changed Hollywood history forever when, in 1943, she dared to take Warner Bros. to court when the studio refused to allow her out of her contract. The win for the actress remains one of the most far-reaching legal rulings in Hollywood—the resulting “seven-year rule,” in fact, is still known as the De Havilland Law. Even the star’s long-estranged sister, the late Joan Fontaine (the two are the only siblings ever to have won lead Academy Awards), would later comment, “Hollywood owes a lot to Olivia.” And so does the great movie-going public. Bon anniversaire.
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