The actress Olivia de Havilland, who died on Saturday at the age of 104 in her home in Paris, turned Hollywood upside down in two ways
The two-time Oscar-winner was a pivotal figure in Hollywood’s golden era and has appeared in nearly 50 films since the beginning of her film career in 1935.
De Havilland, perhaps best known for her role as Melanie Hamilton in “Gone with the Wind” and for her twists in “Robin Hood” and “Captain Blood,” was less known for her efforts to end Communist influence in Hollywood. In 1946, De Havilland gave a speech to the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions in which she was asked to condemn the Truman administration’s policies toward the Soviet Union.
Instead of delivering the pro-Soviet speech, she urged the Hollywood liberals to distance themselves from Moscow and the American Communists.
“We believe in democracy, not communism,” she said, according to the book “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progresses for a Century” by Paul Kengor.
She warned liberals that communists would “often join liberal organizations” to exploit them.
“When Hollywood’s Bolsheviks saw what de Havilland had done, they were furious,” Kengor wrote, citing the speech as “a serious awakening for Ronald Reagan,” who was also a member of the Independent Citizens’ Committee of Arts, Sciences and Professions in Hollywood.
Reagan and de Havilland were already working together on the “Santa Fe Trail” in 1940.
They also fought to end the Hollywood system, according to which actors had to work exclusively for the studio they had signed on for up to seven years, unless they were lent to competitors. Under this system, actors could be suspended without pay if they refused roles, and the period of suspension was recorded in their contracts.
De Havilland also thought Warner Bros. would give her inferior roles.
“She expected that her home studios, Warner Bros. would cast her in her own leading roles. That didn’t really happen. She still felt that her best roles were in other studios,” said Emily Carman, a professor at Chapman University.
De Havilland sued her employer, Warner Bros. in 1943 when they tried to renew her contract. The lawsuit ended the system of long-term contracts and changed the way Hollywood worked. The court decision in de Havilland’s favor became known as the “De Havilland Act.
“She could have just been the simpleton of Errol Flynn,” said Carman, referring to de Havilland’s co-star in a number of films. “We wouldn’t remember her if that’s what she just did. It’s really remarkable that in the prime of her career, she fought offstage against Warner Bros. for almost two years”.
“She went beyond the form that Hollywood had given her for a more multi-faceted acting career,” Carman said.
De Havilland won her first Oscar in 1947 for Best Actress in the 1946 film “To Each His Own” and her second Oscar in 1949 for her performance in “The Heiress”.
She was “the great Hollywood star of the Golden Age,” said Jonathan Kuntz, film historian at UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
“She lived so long, lived into the 21st century,” Kuntz added, “and allowed people in the modern era to still get a first-hand look at a person with that experience in the classical era.
This story was made available to Tekk.tv by Zenger News.