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Olivia de Havilland
Olivia de Havilland
| Credit: Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

After turning 104 on July 1, Olivia de Havilland died on July 26, one of the last of the Golden Age movie stars.

To many, de Havilland was best known for her portrayal of Melanie Wilkes in 1939 epic Gone With the Wind. The generous Melanie, who Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) calls the “only completely kind person I ever knew,” defined de Havilland’s career and has endeared her to audiences for generations. She brought a steel magnolia quality to the role that contrasted with Vivien Leigh’s tempestuous Scarlett O’Hara.

But de Havilland was a star long before and after Gone With the Wind, an actress capable of portraying everything from starry-eyed ingenue to steely spinster. She won two Academy Awards (neither for Gone With the Wind, though she was nominated), and she challenged Warner Bros. in a legal contract dispute that forever changed California Labor Law and helped win greater creative freedom for all performers under the yoke of studio system contracts. It was that same quiet ferocity that defined many of her most memorable roles.

In honor of her passing, here are 13 films that showcase her immense range and talents.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)

Olivia de Havilland
Credit: Everett

After playing the role of Hermia in Shakespeare’s beloved comedy in a renowned Hollywood Bowl production at only 18, de Havilland made her screen debut reprising the role. Max Reinhardt also directed the screen version, and de Havilland’s innate skill is evident in her ease with the language of Shakespeare. As cinematic Shakespeare adaptations go, it’s lush, if a bit overblown, but worth watching to see her luminous debut.

Captain Blood (1935)

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This black-and-white swashbuckler established one of the most iconic onscreen pairings in film history: Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. This was only de Havilland's fourth film and Flynn was a relative unknown, but their chemistry was so combustible, they went on to make eight pictures together. Flynn stars as doctor turned pirate Peter Blood, who escapes his Caribbean enslavement to sail the high seas. De Havilland is Arabella Bishop, a young woman who advocates for Blood before being later kidnapped by him when he turns to piracy. The two, inevitably, fall in love. De Havilland proved herself a worthy on-screen partner for the mesmerizing Flynn and together they made indelible movie magic.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Olivia de Havilland | Of the eight movies de Havilland made with the dashing Aussie playboy Errol Flynn, this giddy frolic is perhaps the best showcase for their indelible…
Credit: Everett Collection

Flynn and de Havilland immortalized their onscreen pairing in this take on the hero who steals from the rich to give to the poor. The two appeared in eight films together, but this is perhaps their most famous collaboration with Flynn as the titular English folk hero and de Havilland his lady love Maid Marian. Their chemistry is undeniable (rumors persist that the two had a brief, ill-fated romance in real life, but de Havilland denies it), and we dare you not to swoon during their balcony scene. De Havilland is radiant, and joyfully cheeky, in the glorious technicolor of this classic adventure movie.

Gone With the Wind (1939)

Gone With the Wind, Olivia de Havilland

De Havilland will always be associated with the role of Melanie Hamilton Wilkes, the beating heart of war epic Gone With the Wind. Kind-hearted and generous to a fault, Melanie first invites the ire of Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) when she marries Scarlett's crush Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard). But through the ravages of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the two women are inexorably drawn together by the man they love and their struggle to survive. In contrast to Scarlett's fierce intelligence and strength, Melanie is all heart. But de Havilland imbued the selflessness of the character with a steely undercut that manifests itself in how fiercely she loves others, making her a worthy foil to Scarlett. Only 22, De Havilland fought hard to win the role of Melanie, recruiting the wife of studio head Jack L. Warner to cajole him into releasing her to David O. Selznick for the role. Unlike the hundreds of actresses vying for the role of Scarlett, de Havilland knew instinctually she was right for the compassionate Melanie after reading Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. Her instincts were dead on, and the role enshrined her as a star from then on, as well as nabbing her first Oscar nomination.

Dodge City (1939)

Olivia de Havilland
Credit: Silver Screen Collection/Getty

De Havilland excelled in Westerns, particularly in the first half of her career, but this box office hit was her first.  It re-teamed her with Flynn in their fifth of eight titles together. Flynn is Wade Hatton, a cowboy, who reluctantly takes the job of sheriff in Dodge City, Kansas, a Western town ruled by a cruel gang. De Havilland is Abbie Irving, one of the new settlers in town, who is initially hostile to Hatton, but eventually falls for him – by then, the patented formula for a Flynn and de Havilland vehicle.

Hold Back the Dawn (1941)

Olivia de Havilland
Credit: John Springer Collection/Corbis via Getty

De Havilland earned her second Oscar nomination and first for Best Actress for this romantic melodrama. She stars as Emmy Brown, a school teacher targeted by con artist Georges Iscovescu (Charles Boyer), a gigolo seeking an American marriage for the purpose of citizenship. As he and Emmy get to know each other, they fall in love, but tragedy intervenes. This film allowed de Havilland to continue the deeper, more emotional character work she craved and launched with Gone With the Wind.

In This Our Life (1942)

Olivia de Havilland
Credit: Donaldson Collection/Getty

Based on a Pulitzer-Prize winning novel of the same name, In This Our Life paired de Havilland with another grande dame of the silver screen, Bette Davis (the two would go on to be lifelong friends). Directed by John Huston, this film stars Davis and de Havilland as sisters and romantic rivals. The two go toe-to-toe despite de Havilland reprising her popular “good girl” role opposite Davis’ wild child sister. De Havilland reunites with Gone With the Wind costar Hattie McDaniel here, and it was a rare studio film from this era to deal frankly with racial discrimination in America.

To Each His Own (1946)

Olivia de Havilland
Credit: Everett

De Havilland won her first of two Oscars for this romantic melodrama about a young woman who has a child out of wedlock and has to give him up. She stars as Jody Norris, a young woman who falls in love and becomes pregnant by an Army fighter pilot during World War I. After giving her baby up to her romantic rival, Corinne (Mary), Jody eventually becomes a successful cosmetics mogul, but still yearns to reconnect with her son. This marked De Havilland’s first film after her victory over Warner Bros., and she brought on a director she trusted, Mitchell Leisen. She was hailed for her ability to play a woman who ages 30 years over the course of the film, using techniques like wearing a different perfume in each segment and lowering her voice incrementally as her character ages.

The Dark Mirror (1946)

The Dark Mirror
Credit: Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

De Havilland pulls double duty (literally) in this psychological thriller where she portrays twin sisters Ruth and Terry Collins. Ruth is kind and loving, while Terry is psychotic and manipulative, gaslighting her sister their entire lives. De Havilland had begun to embrace method acting and encouraged everyone on set to meet with a psychiatrist to enhance their performances. Bette Davis also played twins that same year in A Stolen Life, enshrining them both in Hollywood history as actresses playing dual roles in a film.

The Snake Pit (1948)

Olivia de Havilland
Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty

De Havilland delved even further into psychological terror with this tale of a woman who finds herself in an insane asylum, unable to remember how she got there. To play a woman diagnosed with schizophrenia undergoing treatment, De Havilland threw herself into an intense research process, observing common procedures of the era like hydrotherapy, electric shock treatments, and more while visiting mental institutions. It earned her another Oscar nomination, but more importantly, its frank depiction of conditions inside mental institutions led to nationwide reforms in mental healthcare.

The Heiress (1949)

Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress in 1949
Credit: Everett Collection

Rounding out a string of well-received performances, De Havilland received her second Oscar for her portrayal of titular heiress Catherine Sloper. Catherine begins the film a shy, naïve young woman who places her trust in fortune hunter Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift). When her cruel father and Morris’ possible monetary motivations intercede, Catherine is heartbroken, eventually evolving to a guarded, mature woman. De Havilland won accolades for her portrayal of the character’s sharp transition and her work opposite renowned method actor Montgomery Clift. It reflects de Havilland’s keen sense of self, as she heavily pursued the project and encouraged Paramount to purchase the rights after seeing the play on Broadway.

Light in the Piazza (1962)

Olivia de Havilland
Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

De Havilland shot on location in Rome and Florence for this sweet romantic drama about a young disabled girl on vacation with her mother in Rome. When the young woman falls in love with a local Italian boy, her mother frets about the young man's family discovering Clara's (Yvette Mimieux) disability. De Havilland is the mother Meg, and she brings a maternal warmth and maturity to the role that she had yet to have much opportunity to showcase onscreen after moving to Paris and taking a few years off from Hollywood. It's often praised as one of her best later career performances and the film inspired a Broadway musical of the same name.

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

Olivia de Havilland
Credit: 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images

De Havilland reunited with longtime friend Bette Davis for this pseudo-answer to Davis' What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Davis and her Baby Jane costar Joan Crawford were intended to pair up again here, but when Crawford dropped out, director Robert Aldrich recruited de Havilland to replace her in this grande guignol psychological horror film. Davis stars as the titular Charlotte, a middle-aged Southern woman long suspected in the unsolved murder of her lover who died decades earlier. When she summons her cousin Miriam (de Havilland) to help challenge the demolition of her home, Charlotte is plagued by bizarre occurrences. De Havilland never was fond of the film, but it did give her the opportunity to switch up her typical casting and play an unsympathetic villain.

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