Olivia de Havilland Biography

Olivia de Havilland is a British-American former actress counted amongst the leading movie stars of the golden age of Classical Hollywood. This biography provides detailed information about her childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: July 1, 1916

Nationality: American

Famous: Actresses American Female

Sun Sign: Cancer

Also Known As: Dame Olivia Mary de Havilland

Born in: Tokyo, Japan

Famous as: Actress

Height: 5'3" (160 cm), 5'3" Females


Spouse/Ex-: Marcus Goodrich (m. 1946; div. 1953), Pierre Galante (m. 1955; div. 1979)

father: Walter Augustus de Havilland

mother: Lillian Augusta

siblings: Joan Fontaine

children: Benjamin Goodrich (1949–91), Gisèle Galante (b. 1956)

City: Tokyo, Japan

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Olivia de Havilland is a British-American former actress counted amongst the leading movie stars of the golden age of Classical Hollywood. She first achieved prominence with her performance of the supporting character of Melanie in ‘Gone with the Wind’ and proceeded to establish herself as a leading lady in the years to follow. One of the most successful actresses in the history of Hollywood, she won two Academy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, and two New York Film Critics Circle Awards among others in a career spanning over five decades. Born in Tokyo to English parents, she moved to California with her mother and sister following her parents’ separation. Primarily raised by her mother who was once a stage actress, she ventured into the show business early on and made her acting debut as a young girl in ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ More stage roles followed and she had ventured into Hollywood by the time she reached her late teens. With her delicate features and innocent eyes, she was often cast as demure ingénues opposite popular leading men; her pairing with Errol Flynn became one of the most popular romantic on-screen pairings in Hollywood. Her sister, Joan Fontaine, was also an equally successful actress, and the sibling rivalry between the two was well-known in Hollywood.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • Olivia Mary de Havilland was born on July 1, 1916, in Tokyo, Japan, to English parents. Her father, Walter Augustus de Havilland, was an English professor at the Imperial University in Tokyo, who later became a patent attorney. Her mother, Lillian Augusta, was a former stage actress. She had one younger sister Joan, who went on to become a prominent actress in future.
  • Her parents’ marriage was an unhappy one as her father was not loyal to her mother. The couple separated when the girls were young and Olivia moved to the United States with her mother and younger sister.
  • Olivia received ballet lessons and piano training as a young girl. She went to the Los Gatos High School where she performed well in studies and also excelled in oratory and field hockey along with participating in school plays.
  • She made her debut in amateur theatre in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in 1933. Even though she had a deep interest in dramatics, she aspired to be a schoolteacher. Following her graduation from high school in 1934, she was offered a scholarship to Mills College in Oakland to pursue a career as an English teacher.
  • At around the same time, she also got the chance to play Hermia in a stage production of William Shakespeare's ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream’ which led to a movie contract. Forced to choose between a teaching career and an acting one, she signed a five-year contract with Warner Bros. in 1934.
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  • Olivia de Havilland made her debut in the film adaptation of ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream’ in 1935. While the film was not successful, she got noticed for her beauty and acting skills.
  • Pretty with delicate features and innocent eyes, she was offered many roles which required her to play the ingénue—a sweet, innocent, and wholesome young woman.
  • In the mid-1930s, she was first paired with Errol Flynn in the action-adventure tale ‘Captain Blood’ (1935). The pairing was a successful one and the duo went on to become one of the most popular on-screen romantic couples in Hollywood. They acted together in a total of eight films.
  • In 1939, she played Melanie Hamilton, a gentle and kind woman whose personality is a stark contrast to that of Scarlett O’Hara, an aggressive character portrayed by Vivien Leigh. She earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Melanie.
  • The talented actress soon got bored of being typecast as a sweet young girl and wanted to break out of the mold. In the 1941 comedy drama, ‘The Strawberry Blonde,’ she played an outspoken advocate for women's rights, a role that was much appreciated by the film critics.
  • She played versatile film roles during the 1940s and 1950s, some of the notable ones being in ‘To Each His Own’ (1946), ‘The Well-Groomed Bride’ (1946), ‘The Snake Pit’ (1948), ‘The Heiress’ (1949), ‘My Cousin Rachel’ (1952), ‘Not as a Stranger’ (1955), ‘The Ambassador's Daughter’ (1956), and ‘The Proud Rebel’ (1958).
  • During the later years of her career, she ventured into television and remained active well up to the late 1980s. Her popular television appearances include television film ‘Murder Is Easy’ (1982), the drama ‘The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana’ (1982), and the 1986 ABC miniseries ‘North and South, Book II.’ Her final screen performance was in the romantic television drama ‘The Woman He Loved’ in 1988.
Major Works
  • Olivia de Havilland won her first Academy Award for her portrayal of a young unwed mother in the romantic comedy film ‘To Each His Own.’ Her poignant performance was much appreciated and the film was both a critical and commercial success.
  • Her role as Catherine Sloper—a rich heiress who struggles with an indifferent father and falls in love with a fortune hunter—in the drama film ‘The Heiress’ gained her much acclaim. She won several awards for her performance including an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a New York Film Critics Circle Award.
Awards & Achievements
  • Olivia de Havilland won the Academy Award for the Best Actress in a Leading Role twice: for ‘To Each His Own’ in 1946 and for ‘The Heiress’ in 1949.
  • Her role as Catherine Sloper in ‘The Heiress’ also earned her the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actress and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress in 1949.
  • In 1986, she won the Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for performance in ‘Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna.’ The same role also earned her the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries.
  • In 2008, she was presented with the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor given for achievement in the arts conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the American people.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Prior to getting married, Olivia de Havilland had dated several men like Howard Hughes, James Stewart, and John Huston. Her first marriage was to Marcus Goodrich, a Navy veteran, screenwriter and novelist, in 1946. They had one son and divorced in 1953.
  • She tied the knot for the second time in 1955. Her second husband, Pierre Galante, was an executive editor for the French journal ‘Paris Match.’ The couple had one daughter. This marriage too ended in divorce in 1979, but the two remained close until Galante’s death in 1998.

1. The Heiress (1949)

  (Drama, Romance)

2. Gone with the Wind (1939)

  (Romance, Drama, War, History)

3. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

  (Romance, Action, Adventure)

4. Captain Blood (1935)

  (Adventure, Action)

5. The Snake Pit (1948)

  (Drama, Mystery)

6. It's Love I'm After (1937)


7. To Each His Own (1946)

  (Romance, Drama)

8. Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

  (Crime, Thriller, Mystery, Drama)


Academy Awards(Oscars)
1950 Best Actress in a Leading Role The Heiress (1949)
1947 Best Actress in a Leading Role To Each His Own (1946)
Golden Globe Awards
1987 Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986)
1950 Best Actress The Heiress (1949)

See the events in life of Olivia De Havilland in Chronological Order

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Article Title
- Olivia de Havilland Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com
Last Updated
- September 25, 2017
Olivia de Havilland

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