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Olivia de Havilland (1916-2020)

And so I believe ends the final connection that we classic film buffs have to the era of the 1930’s when movies were still relatively new and the first icons of talking motion pictures were being born. Miss Olivia always represented for me the beautiful girl next door that one wishes for.

Earliest memory? That’s easy. The beautiful Maid Marian opposite Flynn’s dashing Robin Hood. It’s the film that fueled a young boy’s imagination on Sunday afternoon television growing up before the VHS machine changed the way we watched and selected movies. She did of course make numerous films with Flynn and following their final appearance together in They Died With Their Boots On, she would score a pair of Oscars in Hold Back the Dawn and The Heiress. The latter film an unforgettable movie that I still go back to regularly only to have my heart crushed at the cruelty she’ll experience at the hands of Montgomery Clift and the final outcome.

Do I have a favorite film starring Miss Olivia. Hesitantly I’ll say no but if pushed to pick just one I must say I adore her performance as that girl next door I referred to earlier in 1941’s The Strawberry Blonde. The film where Jimmy Cagney comes to realize she’s the diamond he’s been in search of and not the woman all the boys in town are chasing after, Rita Hayworth, in the title role.

Another film I go back to quite often aside from Robin Hood and the others I’ve mentioned is a western she appeared in with Alan Ladd titled, The Proud Rebel. A later film for Miss Olivia she plays a strong willed frontier woman who takes on Ladd as a ranch hand and his young son (David Ladd) who has lost the power of speech all the while having to defend herself against Dean Jagger who wants to buy her out. Love this Shane like film where she and the Ladd’s make a great team on screen.

day was inevitable but each year I’d be silently rooting for both her and Kirk Douglas to celebrate another birthday. Alas they have both left us this year. Miss Olivia is indeed one of my favorite leading ladies of the 30’s through to the 50’s. Looking back one of the first things I did when starting this blog was select her as the first female star I celebrated by going on a five day journey through some of her 1940’s output including her Oscar wins.

Princess O’Rourke (1943) A comedy opposite Bob Cummings.

The Dark Mirror (1946) Classic Noir with Olivia playing a set of twins in a good vs. evil scenario.

To Each His Own (1946) Classic weeper scored Olivia her first Oscar.

The Strawberry Blonde (1941) As I previously mentioned, I love this comedy with Olivia as the girl next door all us would be tough guys like ME and CAGNEY really want in our life. Yes we pretend we’re tough on the outside but we’re pure romantics at heart.

The Heiress (1949) Powerful film and not to be missed. Oscar number two.

Other titles I’ve spotlighted include that western with Ladd, The Proud Rebel, an early teaming with Bette Davis and Leslie Howard, It’s Love I’m After and that final film with Flynn, They Died With Their Boots On.

I guess many will look to her passing as the final connection to Gone With the Wind and that’s understandable considering the film’s ongoing popularity. Let’s not forget that despite portraying plenty of fragile characters like she did in The Snake Pit, she was a woman who stood up for her rights and fought the studio system all the way to the supreme court and won her case concerning the 7 year contracts they were signed too.

She even made the news last year when she felt she wasn’t being portrayed correctly in the TV miniseries, Feud: Bette and Joan where she was portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones. Feisty to the end and thankfully we’ll always have the movies to go back and visit her anytime we want to.

Rest in peace, Miss Olivia.

8 Comments »

  1. I guess people were starting to wonder if she might in fact be immortal! What a great age to reach. If I’m honest I hadn’t really watched or knew who she was before starting my blog. (Gone With The Wind and Robin Hood aside). It wasn’t long before I was fascinated with her. The Snake Pit, The Dark Mirror and Lady In A Cage scored big on the wolfie meter. Plus of course Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.
    I loved the fact that she was beautiful and I’d of thought she would be stereotyped but with those four films I mention above she showed she could have a good go at crazy too.
    I still have a big Olivia film journey to go on. Many more films to see.
    Thanks for the great tribute to her it was lovely to read. I like that sign off “Feisty to the end”

    • I’m so incredibly bummed. Every time another famous actor or actress died I’d think to myself “But Olivia lives on!” Her passing does mark a passing.

    • An early screen crush for yours truly even if she was nearing 70 or so when I first saw Robin Hood. Those are the things we never realize as children when watching old movies. They are forever young on screen. If you can, check out Strawberry Blonde and Proud Rebel. Man I love those two films. Here’s hoping we can be feisty to the end!

      • I’m currently working on my next compilation of cartoon reviews of movies “I Watch Dead People” which will include “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” My last book on Blockbusters included “Gone with the Wind.”

  2. I’m so incredibly bummed. Every time another famous actor or actress died I’d think to myself “But Olivia lives on!” Her passing does mark a passing.

    • That’s a great way to look at it, Olivia lives on! I used to wonder who was going to outlast the other, her or Kirk Douglas and while she won that race there’s no joy whatsoever for us fans at losing two giants of cinema so closely together.

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