Olivia De Havilland was attending Oakland’s Mills College on a scholarship when she asked for permission to attend rehearsals of Max Reinhardt’s "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Instead, the casting director persuaded her to audition for the understudy role of Hermia. When she got the job, it meant the end of her school days and the end of her engagement to a Yale medical student. The actress playing Hermia bowed out and De Havilland went on in her place. She was a hit at the Hollywood Bowl and at UC Berkeley where the play was staged in the Faculty Glade and the Greek Theatre. When Warner Brothers filmed "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" in 1935, De Havilland was a radiant Hermia.
Unlike Bette Davis, the Queen of the lot, Olivia De Havilland presented a demure, gentle image, perfect for an Erroll Flynn swashbuckler like “The Adventures Of Robin Hood” in which she played the lovely Maid Marian. Underneath the surface, however, De Havilland had very definite ideas about how she wanted her career to evolve. She fought to play the role of Melanie in “Gone With The Wind” at MGM, and later won a landmark court decision which limited studio contracts to seven years. This freed her to work for other studios like Paramount where she won her two Academy Awards for “To Each His Own” and “The Heiress.” Although De Havilland preferred to give backbone to “good girl” roles, she could be a formidable villain, too, as she proved in “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte” opposite Bette Davis. In her later career, Olivia De Havilland seems to have lost the common touch which made her so appealing, as well as the subtle humor which brightened many a dreary script. Still, the brown-eyed charmer who was born in Tokyo in 1916 can look back on thirty years in which she turned in dozens of delicately shaded performances.
© 2006 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 7/5/06
Olivia De Havilland