Olivia de Havilland dead at 104; legendary actress won two Oscars and fought for artist work rights

July 26, 2020

by Rachel Grant

Oscar-winning actress Olivia de Havilland died of natural causes at her home in Paris on July 26, 2020. She was 104. According to Variety, de Havilland’s former lawyer Suzelle M. Smith commented, “She died peacefully in Paris.”

Some of the best-known films that de Havilland starred in were 1939’s “Gone With the Wind,” 1941’s “Hold Back the Dawn,” 1946’s “To Each His Own,” 1948’s “The Snake Pit” and 1949’s “The Heiress.” She won Academy Awards for Best Actress for “To Each His Own” and “The Heiress.” She also received Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress for “Gone With the Wind” and Best Actress for “Hold Back the Dawn” and “The Snake Pit.”

Born on July 1, 1916, in Tokyo, de Havilland was raised in the United Kingdom. Her father, Walter de Havilland, was an English professor who later became a patent attorney, while her mother was actress Lilian Fontaine. Because both of  her parents were British, she had dual citizenship.

Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine was Olivia de Havilland’s younger sister by one year. The two sisters had a notorious rivalry/feud, off and on, for years. They remained estranged when Fontaine died in 2013, at the age of 96. They are the only sisters to have won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Fontaine won her Oscar for 1941’s “Suspicion,” in the same year that de Havilland was Oscar-nominated in the Best Actress category for “Hold Back the Dawn.”

In 1943, de Havilland filed a groundbreaking lawsuit against Warner Bros. Pictures, with her lawsuit claiming that she was no longer bound to work for Warner Bros. after seven years, based on California Labor Code that forbids an employer-employee contract to last for more than seven years after the employee first began working for the employer. In 1945, de Havilland won the lawsuit, which set a precedent for what’s known as the De Havilland Law, which limits an employer-employee contract to no more than seven years from the time that an employee begins working for the employer.

In addition to her movie career, de Havilland also made her mark as an actress in theater and on television. She starred in Broadway productions such as such as 1951’s “Romeo and Juliet,” 1952’s “Candida” and 1962’s “A Gift of Time.” Her notable TV appearances included the 1979 miniseries “Roots: The Next Generations” and the 1986 miniseries “Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna,” a project for which she received a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy nomination.

As for her personal life, de Havilland was married and divorced twice. Her first marriage to screenwriter/novelist Marcus Goodrich lasted from 1946 to 1953. Her second marriage to journalist Pierre Galante was from 1955 to 1979. Her son Benjamin (from her marriage to Goodrich) died of lymphoma in 1991, at the age of 42. She is survived by her attorney daughter Gisele Galante Chulak, who was born from de Havilland’s marriage to Galante.