Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! Today’s entry is the second in a trilogy of posts in celebration of the 75th anniversary of Gone With The Wind (1939), which premiered in Atlanta on December 15, 1939. It is among my favorite films of all time — if not my VERY favorite film — and one of my first Wildcard posts was dedicated to the casting of Scarlett O’Hara. And since both Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable have had special tributes on past Film Friday blog series, I want to take these three posts to share great (little known) performances from three of the film’s most important supporting players: Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, and Hattie McDaniel. Each post will feature a forgotten artifact from these talented performers’ pre (or post) GWTW careers. This week…
Olivia de Havilland (b. 1916)
Born in Japan, Olivia relocated to Saratoga, California with her mom and sister, Joan, before he turned three. She began acting at the age of 17, and made her professional debut when Max Reinhardt cast her as an understudy in a legendary 1935 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Hollywood Bowl. When actress Gloria Stuart left the show before opening, de Havilland found herself going on as Hermia. The success of her performance led to her being cast in Warner Brother’s 1935 screen adaptation (also directed by Reinhardt), for which she signed a seven year contract with the studio. Cast in either romantic dramas or period comedies, de Havilland was put in a string of films opposite Errol Flynn, which managed to be both critical and commercial successes. In 1938, de Havilland successfully convinced Warners to loan her to Selznick for the role of Melanie in Gone With The Wind (1939), a role which earned her an Academy Award nomination. With her contract to Warners coming to an end, the studio tried to tack on an additional six months due to a prior suspension, but Olivia took the case to court and won. The remaining years of the decade gave de Havilland a husband, a child, and two Academy Award winning roles (for To Each His Own and The Heiress). Though her output slowed down in the ’50s, she continued to work regularly, until moving to Paris with her second husband and two children. Never retired, de Havilland acted occasionally in films and on television for the next three decades. Still alive and well and living in Paris (age 98, at the time of this writing), de Havilland is one of the few Hollywood legends around today. Despite her many varied performances, she’ll always be remembered as Melanie Wilkes, and as far as she’s concerned, that’s perfectly okay.
Below is an episode of The Big Show, the radio show that Tallulah Bankhead hosted for two seasons on NBC. This installment, which aired April 15, 1951, features Bankhead alongside Jack Carson, Eddie Cantor, Martha Raye, and Olivia de Havilland, who recreates a scene from Romeo And Juliet, which she was playing on Broadway at the time. Not the complete show, here’s over an hour from this wonderfully fun broadcast. (De Havilland comes in around the 14 minute mark, but be sure to listen to the whole thing — such wonderful performances!)
Come back next Wednesday for Hattie McDaniel! And tune in tomorrow for more Xena!