Although Melanie Hamilton Wilkes died at the end of “Gone With the Wind,” the actress who played her — Olivia de Havilland — lives on. The only surviving cast member from that beloved 1939 film — and one of the last remaining icons from Hollywood’s golden age — turns 101 on Saturday, July 1.
Now living in Paris, de Havilland was named a Dame Commander in Queen Elizabeth II’s Birthday Honors list earlier this month, for her services to drama. The two-time Oscar winner is the oldest-ever recipient of the distinction.
“To receive this honor as my 101st birthday approaches is the most gratifying of birthday presents,” de Havilland told People.
When it comes to de Havilland’s personal life, the actress has been married twice, first to American author Marcus Goodrich and later to French journalist Pierre Galante. Both marriages ended in divorce. She had a daughter, Giselle, with Galante and a son, Benjamin, with Goodrich. Her son died in 1991 from Hodgkin’s disease.
During a career spanning six decades, de Havilland made 49 feature films, including “The Snake Pit” in 1948 and “To Each His Own” in 1946. She won a best actress Oscar for the latter. She’s also famous for her ongoing feud with Joan Fontaine, her younger sister by 15 months. The two actresses apparently didn’t talk to each other for 38 years, up to Fontaine’s death in 2013. Interesting tidbit: They’re the only sisters in Oscar history to both have won leading actress awards.
But of course de Havilland is best known for her role as the soft-spoken Melanie, the perfect angelic foil for the headstrong Scarlett O’Hara. De Havilland earned the first of what would be five Oscar nominations for the part, for best supporting actress, at the age of 23. (Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy in “Gone With the Wind,” nabbed the supporting actress prize, making her the first African American to win an Academy Award.)
De Havilland recently talked to Vanity Fair about the famous film, saying that when she first read the Margaret Mitchell book, she didn’t identify with the character.
“But when I read Sidney Howard’s wonderful script, Melanie seemed like a totally different character,” she said. “I liked her, I admired her, I loved her!”
When asked about her incredible longevity, de Havilland told the magazine that she owes it to “the three L’s – love, laughter and light.” She also does the New York Times crossword puzzle every day, a habit that started when she was a teenager.
Her plan now? To live to 110. Happy birthday, Ms. de Havilland. Here’s to many more.