Olivia de Havilland: Star of the Century Retrospective

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades


When two-time Academy Award-winner Olivia de Havilland died at 104 in 2020, she was described as having been “the last surviving major star of Hollywood’s Golden Age.”

De Havilland appeared in 49 feature films. She has been declared “The Star of the Century.”

From February 10th through 17th, Tropic Cinema will host an Olivia de Havilland Retrospective – six of her classic films, plus a documentary titled “The Rebellious Olivia de Havilland.” An All-Access Pass grants moviegoers entrance to the week-long celebration honoring the life and film career of Dame Olivia Mary de Havilland.

The British-American actress was born in Tokyo. Her mother was a stage actress; her father was at the time a college professor at the Imperial University in Tokyo City.

Her younger sister was Oscar-winner Joan Fontaine. They had a lifelong feud, with de Havilland calling Fontaine the “Dragon Lady.” They remain the only siblings to have won major Academy Awards.

Olivia de Havilland made her screen debut in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1935), but came to prominence playing opposite Errol Flynn in such swashbuckler films as “Captain Blood” (1935) and “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938). They starred in eight films together – and their onscreen chemistry was palpable.

After decades of speculation, de Havilland finally admitted that she and Flynn had “shared an emotional love affair – but one that was never consummated.”

De Havilland had romances with such luminaries as James Stewart and John Huston, even rebuffed a courtship with a young Naval Lieutenant named John F. Kennedy.

There were lots of rumors, often planted by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. “One day Olivia go a phone call from Howard Hughes, who said, “I read in the paper this morning that you and I are getting married. Don’t you think we should at least meet each other?”

She married twice, to author Marcus Goodrich and to Pierre Galante, an editor at Paris Match.

Perhaps Olivia de Havilland is best remembered as the wife of Ashely Wilkes in “Gone With the Wind.” That’s how I met her, at the second world premiere of the movie in Atlanta, Georgia. As a member of the press, I got to march down Peachtree with Olivia, Anne Rutherford, Evelyn Keys, and Victor Jory.

A kind person, Olivia came to my rescue at a press conference. I was a 25-year-old film critic who looked 17. Looking at me across the large round interview table, Evelyn Keys snapped, “Who let this kid in here?” Olivia immediately came to my defense, declaring me one of her favorite members of the press. Victor Jory, far from being the evil overseer from the film, put my tux rental on his tab.

Olivia shrugged off questions about her sister with a smile; expressed sadness that Butterfly McQueen chose not to join us for the “reunion”; and smothered us with warmness and charm.

Olivia was the grand dame at a premiere after-party at Aunt Pitty Pat’s Porch, a restaurant that would be deemed politically incorrect today, but was in keeping with the GWTW theme.

Tropic Cinema’s Olivia de Havilland Retrospective was the brain child of local movie mavens Jean Carper, Amy Bondurant, and David Dunn.

Jean had become a fan of de Havilland when she was fourteen years old, sitting through “To Each His Own” three times in one afternoon.

“Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Olivia’s daughter Gisele through Amy and David here in Key West and buying a portrait of Olivia for the Tropic,” Jean says. ”I think her daughter suggested the retrospective and it was an instant YES.”

Amy nods: “Jean launched the idea with the Tropic leadership and voila.”

“Olivia was David and my closest friend in Paris for many years until her death and her daughter also became a dear friend,” Amy continues. ”We first met Olivia when I served as US Ambassador to the OECD in Paris in the Clinton Administration.”

David loves to reminisce about spending many an afternoon at Olivia’s champagne-and-crudities soirées. “When she moved to a very high-end assisted living apartment, she used to like for me to come over and read to her. She would lay there with her eyes closed, sometimes opening them to correct some Hollywood story I was reading to her. ‘That’s not the way it happened,’ she would exclaim. ‘I was at that party. I know.’”

“Olivia was wise, witty, a bit mischievous, and tons of fun,” Amy adds. “She was a wonderful mentor to us. She taught us about perseverance. We loved her dearly.”

The Tropic lineup includes such iconic films as “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938), “Hold Back the Dawn” (1941, Oscar Nominated), “The Strawberry Blonde” (1941), “To Each His Own” (1946, Oscar Winner), “The Snake Pit” (1948), and “The Heiress” (1949, Oscar Winner).

The 2021 documentary “The Rebellious Olivia De Havilland” will screen on February 10. The filmmakers behind this captivating piece will be flying in for a Q&A session after the film.

As a grand finale, Olivia de Havilland’s daughter – Gisele Galante – will be joining Tropic audiences to speak about “The Heiress.”

I’m giving you this advance notice so you can secure your All-Access Pass. This is an event that no lover of classic Hollywood films would want to miss.

Email Shirrel: srhoades@aol.com

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