Los Angeles, Jul 26 (efe-epa).- Actress Olivia de Havilland, who starred in the classic 1939 film about the US Civil War era “Gone with the Wind,” died Sunday, local media reported, citing her publicist Lisa Goldberg. She was 104.
De Havilland, the winner of two Oscars and two Golden Globes and considered to be the last living legend from the Golden Age of moviemaking after the death of Kirk Douglas earlier this year, died of natural causes at her home in Paris, France, where she had lived for more than 60 years.
Although she won the coveted Oscar statuettes for her roles in the 1946 film “To Each His Own” and the 1949 film “The Heiress,” the character whom she immortalized on film was that of the stoic and saintly Melanie Hamilton in the classic “Gone With the Wind,” for which she received no awards despite the fact that it is the iconic role with which De Havilland will forever be identified.
Another of her celebrated film roles, however, was in “The Snake Pit” (1948), one of the first Hollywood films dealing with mental illness and one that she always considered one of the greatest challenges of her career.
She was also widely praised for her role as Maid Marian in the 1938 film “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”
In addition, however, De Havilland marked a key turning point for the film industry by being one of the first actresses to take her studio – Warner Brothers – to court in 1943 to free herself from the most abusive elements of her contract.
At that time, the well-known “star-system” reigned in Hollywood according to which the big studios burnished their stars and made them famous in exchange for controlling to the utmost virtually all aspects of their working and personal lives.
De Havilland was successful in her lawsuit and changed the movie industry for the benefit of her fellow actors and actresses, preventing the studios from adjusting or shelving the contracts of their actors if they spent time on suspension after refusing roles and extending the exclusivity conditions beyond their agreed-upon termination dates.
Actress Bette Davis, who had tried without success to do the same thing in the English courts and with whom De Havilland starred in the 1942 film “In This Our Life,” said: “Olivia should be thanked by every actor today. She won the court battle that no contract should ever have to continue more than seven years.”
In Hollywood, that ruling became known as “The De Havilland Decision,” although the actress was blacklisted by studios for two years before she could resume her film career.
In a 1992 interview, the actress said that nobody knew that she’d win her case, but after doing so she received flowers, letters and telegrams from her colleagues, something that she called marvelously gratifying.
When De Havilland was asked if it bothered her to be remembered as her character from “Gone with the Wind,” she replied: “She was pretty admirable. And I’m not going to object to being remembered for the character that I played in the best-loved film of the century.”
Although she maintained her links to Hollywood, De Havilland had lived since the mid-20th century in France, a country where she received numerous and varied awards and honors.
She was born in 1916 in Tokyo, Japan, to English parents and was the older sister to actress Joan Fontaine. She was married twice and had one son and one daughter.