WCW: Olivia de Havilland


She’s over 101, and she’s been retired from the screen since the 1980s. But Olivia de Havilland is still alive and kicking — she recently sued FX over the portrayal of her in the miniseries Feud, about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford around the time they filmed Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? in 1962. In Feud, Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Olivia de Havilland, and de Havilland claims that the series showed events that never happened and was demeaning her reputation for being a lady” and some material in the TV series is “in contrast with Olivia de Havilland’s reputation for good manners, class, and kindness.” It’s not her first lawsuit, having famously sued Warner Brothers over a contract dispute in 1944 and won. That cost her a few years of goodwill among Hollywood’s studios, but she managed to come back and make some of her most famous films. Let’s look at her best work in historical costume!


Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)

Olivia de Havilland, A Midsummer's Nights Dream (1935)


Arabella Bishop in Captain Blood (1935)

1935 Captain Blood

This was a hugely successful Errol Flynn 17th-c. swashbuckler.


Angela Guessippi in Anthony Adverse (1936)

Olivia de Havilland, Anthony Adverse (1936)

Set in 18th-century Italy and on my “to watch” list for that wired collar thing alone!


Elsa Campbell in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)

1936 Charge of the Light Brigade

Co-starring Errol Flynn again, now during the famous 1850s war.


Maid Marian in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

1938 Robin Hood

Guess who’s Robin? Yep, Errol Flynn! After 8 films together, they had a mutually affectionate relationship offscreen, but it didn’t lead to romance.


Lady Penelope Gray in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

1939 Private Lives of Elizabeth Essex

She plays second fiddle in Essex and Elizabeth’s relationship. It’s almost a foreshadowing of…


Melanie Hamilton in Gone With the Wind (1939)

1939 Gone with the Wind

My least favorite role of hers, but you may disagree.


Elizabeth Bacon in They Died With Their Boots On (1941)

Olivia de Havilland, They Died With Their Boots On (1941)

Costarring Errol Flynn again, as General Custer, and de Havilland as his wife. I’m also amused at how 1940s instead of 1860s her wedding gown looks.


Charlotte Brontë in Devotion (1946)

Olivia de Havilland, Devotion (1946)

This is the first movie about the Brontë sisters’ life, and it’s terrible. Click the title for my review.


Catherine Sloper in The Heiress (1949)

1949 The Heiress

This film earned Olivia de Havilland the second of her two Oscars for Best Actress in a Leading Role.


Rachel Ashley in My Cousin Rachel (1952)

1952 My Cousin Rachel

Oddly enough, she doesn’t wear this white gown in the film, but the hairstyle and necklace feature prominently.


Ana de Mendoza in That Lady (1955)

1955 That Lady

I have to hunt down a digital copy of this flick where she plays the Princess of Eboli — the costumes look wacky!


Mrs. Warner in Roots: The Next Generations (1979)

Olivia de Havilland, Roots: The Next Generations (1979)

Olivia de Havilland did a fair number of TV movies and miniseries in the ’60s-’80s, such as this 19th-c. sequel to the influential Roots.


Mrs. Neal in North and South, Book II (1986)

Olivia de Havilland, North and South, Book II (1986)

Everybody seemed to show up in this lengthy TV miniseries about the Civil War.


Dowager Empress Maria in Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986)

1986 Anastasia the Mystery of Anna

Olivia de Havilland won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Emmy for this TV movie.


Aunt Bessie Merryman in The Woman He Loved (1988)

Olivia de Havilland, The Woman He Loved (1988)

This TV movie about Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson was Olivia de Havilland’s final screen performance.



What’s your favorite historical movie or TV series with Olivia de Havilland? What do you think of how she was portrayed in Feud?

14 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    IMHO Ms de Havilland is a national treasure. I loved her in Robin Hood as Lady Marian. She literally lit up each an every scene she was in.
    GWTW isn’t a favourite film, but Melanie is a favourite character.
    Her Catherine Sloper in Washington Square, I kinda feel is my favourite film, bc of the prep work she did and that she was willing to appear unglam.
    Her later roles were excellent especially Dagmar, er Marie Feodorovna.

  2. Carmen Beaudry

    I may need to make that robe thing from The Heiress.

  3. Andrew.

    She is also good exchanging slantendicular looks with James Cagney in The Strawberry Blonde set in 1890s New York.

  4. Misty Smith

    Beautiful, clever & awesome lady! Her Maid Marian is my second favourite ever (Sorry, massive fan of the Disney version.) I have her & Mr. Flynn’s movie collection… still need to re-watch it :-). (best thing about GWT is the costumes & her, the movie, less so. sorry x)

  5. Theresa Chedoen

    In the book, Melanie was pretty much a drip, but in the movie, Miss De Havilland gave her warmth and sympathy and class. She is a treasure.

  6. Rab

    Yes yes yes! A great actress and a great lady- but Theresa, please re-read GWTW- Melanie in the book and the movie is not a drip- she is frail but not fragile- gentle, but not weak- she is the thing that keeps Scarlett going- you have only to read the scene where Scarlett shoots the Yankee who is taking the last few things of Scarlett’s mother to know this- Melanie is always there holding up the people she loves- I am well aware of GWTWs flaws, but I do find the relationships between all the women fascinating.

  7. Charity

    You know, FX might have thought about the fact that one of these Classic Hollywood ladies is still around to be offended by the movie industry’s tendency to do whatever they want in depicting people’s lives. :P

  8. Julia

    I can’t express in words my love for her. She is just so classy. Nothing beats The Heiress for me, especially at the very end with, “Bolt the door, Mariah.”

  9. Jose

    I remember the ending of Anthony Adverse her character ended up being Napoleon’s mistress Mlle. Georges one of his less known mistresses