Saturday, January 10, 2015

Twice a Best Actress: Olivia de Havilland

With the recent death of Luise Rainer (who we just discussed recently for this very series), Olivia de Havilland at the age of 98 is now the oldest living Oscar winner among the actors. She made her film debut at the age of 19 playing Hermia in the 1935 film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream and quickly signed a 7 year contract with Warner Bros where they often paired her alongside Errol Flynn, whom she appeared with 8 times on screen. But de Havilland is probably best known today for her performance as Melanie in Gone With the Wind, which brought her the first of an eventual 5 Oscar nominations. In addition to the Best Supporting Actress nom for GWTW, she received Best Actress nominations for Hold Back the Dawn (1941) and The Snake Pit (1948) and won twice for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949). She competed against her own sister, Joan Fontaine, in 1941 where Fontaine won for the Hitchcock film Suspicion. The sisters had a fierce rivalry. They were so opposed to each that that they stopped speaking in 1975. Fontaine once remarked about her sister, "I married first, won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she'll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it!" Fontaine actually died recently in 2013...But they still stand as the only siblings to win Lead Acting Oscars. Both de Havilland's Oscar winning performances were discussed as part of our Twice A Best Actress roundtable from Fisti at A Fistful of Films. And it almost didn't happen. You would think that an actress as celebrated as de Havilland, in an Oscar winning performance, no less, would have her film legacy available for viewing. But her first Best Actress win is unavailable on DVD or streaming in the US. We simply must preserve our film history, it would be a shame if Oscar legacy disappeared completely. Otherwise, how would we ever be able to discuss an actress like Olivia de Havilland?

Olivia de Havilland

Best Actress 1946

Olivia de Havilland To Each His Own
Celia Johnson Brief Encounter*
Jennifer Jones Duel in the Sun
Rosalind Russell Sister Kenny
Jane Wyman The Yearling

My Thoughts on de Havilland as Jody Norris in To Each His Own: "Although de Havilland has cited the role as one of her favorites, truthfully, the part is rather passive and the actress doesn’t dig very deeply into the different aspects of this mother’s grief, often choosing the most obvious choice..." (Click here for the complete write-up) C-

Best Actress 1949

Jeanne Crain Pinky
Olivia de Havilland The Heiress*
Susan Hayward My Foolish Heart
Deborah Kerr Edward, My Son
Loretta Young Come to the Stable

My Thoughts on de Havilland as Catherine Sloper in The Heiress: "But as masterful as she is at playing both facets of Catherine, they never believably feel like they belong to the same person..." (Click here to read the complete write-up) B

*My Choices for Best Actress. Although, I have not seen the other nominees in either year, so take these with a grain of salt. My choice on Johnson is based solely on reputation, but feel the real winner should have been Ingrid Bergman for NOTORIOUS, who wasn't even nominated.   


  1. Believe the hype about Johnson. Like, I LOVE Bergman, but Johnson was better.

    You are so right about film preservation. It's a disgrace that we had to practically bootleg our way to a discussion about an Oscar winning performance!

    1. i'm gonna have to see BRIEF ENCOUNTER. people love that movie. i saw the stage version of it on Broadway a couple years ago and they use clips from the movie.

      and it's not like it was some obscure win either - it's Olivia de Havilland, for cryin' out loud!