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What It Takes - Olivia DeHavilland

Olivia DeHavilland
Olivia DeHavilland
What It Takes - Olivia DeHavilland
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00:00:06 ALICE WINKLER: When people talk about Hollywood’s Golden Age, they’re usually referring to that period between about 1930 and 1959 when the studios ruled, glamour was the order of the day, and people on screen talked like this...

00:00:21 LADY MARIAN: I know now why you tried so hard to kill this outlaw whom you despised. It's because he was the one man in England who protected the helpless against a lot of beasts who were drunk on human blood, and now you intend to murder your own brother.

00:00:34 PRINCE JOHN: You'll be sorry you interfered.

00:00:36 LADY MARIAN: Sorry? I'd do it again if you killed me for it.

00:00:40 CATHERINE: He must take me away. He must love me!

00:00:45 MRS. PENNIMAN: Catherine, you must take hold of yourself.

00:00:47 CATHERINE: No, no, Morris must take hold of me. Morris will love me! For all those —

00:00:53 MELANIE: We thought it best not to tell you, Scarlett, but Ashley and Frank and the others have gone to clean out those woods where you were attacked. It's what a great many of our Southern gentlemen have had to do lately for our protection.

00:00:58 ALICE WINKLER: That was the Adventures of Robin Hood, followed by The Heiress, and of course, Gone with the Wind. They all starred Olivia de Havilland, the only female superstar of the Golden Age who is still alive. Miss de Havilland turns 100 on July 1, 2016, so this episode of What It Takes from the Academy of Achievement is devoted to her life and career. I’m Alice Winkler.

00:01:31 OPRAH WINFREY: "Hattie Mae, this child is gifted," and I heard that enough that I started to believe it.

00:01:36 ROGER BANNISTER: If you have the opportunity, not a perfect opportunity, and you don't take it, you may never have another chance.

00:01:43 LAURYN HILL: It all was so clear. It was just, like, the picture started to form itself.

00:01:48 DESMOND TUTU: There was no way in which a lie could prevail over the truth, darkness over light, death over life.

00:01:56 CAROL BURNETT (quoting CARRIE HAMILTON): “Every day I wake up and decide, today I'm going to love my life. Decide.”

00:02:03 JOHNNY CASH: My advice is, if they're going to break your leg once when you go in that place, stay out of there.

00:02:08 JAMES MICHENER: And then along come these differential experiences that you don't look for, you don't plan for, but boy, you’d better not miss them.

00:02:21 ALICE WINKLER: Olivia de Havilland was 18 when she starred in her first movie. We’ll talk about how she got there in a moment, and how she came to change Hollywood forever, but first take a listen to her voice, recorded when she was a mere 90.

00:02:35 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: You know, thrust into my profession without any training whatsoever, I had to just flounder and just find my way. It was an agonizing experience. It's like jumping off a diving board in the Olympic contest without knowing how to swim or dive, and I just had to find my way. So one day, I said to Jimmy Cagney, "Jimmy, what is acting?"

00:03:11 And he said, "I don't know." He said, "All I can tell you is, whatever you say, mean it," and I thought that marvelous counsel.

00:03:29 ALICE WINKLER: Miss de Havilland sat down to record this interview with the Academy of Achievement in 2006. She spoke for three hours and seemed to remember every name, every story, and every detail from her life in the movies as if she’d just walked off the set. And even though she’s lived in Paris for the past 50 years, pretty much out of the limelight, she tells a tale with all the flourish you’d hope for.

00:03:55 For instance, when interviewer Gail Eichenthal started off by asking her how she came to be born in Japan in 1916, this is how she responded:

00:04:05 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: People ask me that question and of course, the natural reply is, “Well, my parents were there at the time.”

00:04:14 But of course, there's more to the story than that.

00:04:16 ALICE WINKLER: Olivia de Havilland’s parents were both British, and they met in Tokyo. Her father was a Cambridge graduate who was there teaching in the Anglican community. Her mother had a degree in music and went to teach choral singing.

00:04:30 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: She received a letter from her brother saying, "I have a post for you to come out to Japan," and at the age of 21, my mother set sail for Japan unchaperoned, and I said to her in the last days of her life, I said, "Mother, do you mean to tell me that you went out to Japan in 1907 at the age of 21 without a chaperone?"

00:05:06 And she said, "I was in charge of the captain." I said, "Mother, you were in charge of the captain?" And she said, "He went mad in the Malay straits." I said, "Mother, were you the cause?" And she replied, "There were some who said so." That was my mother.

00:05:31 ALICE WINKLER: Olivia de Havilland’s mother, it would seem, passed along her flair for drama and her independent spirit to her daughter.


00:05:44 ALICE WINKLER: They moved from Japan to the United States when De Havilland was just a toddler. Her parents had split up over her father’s likely infidelities, so it was just her, her mom, and her baby sister, Joan. Joan would grow up, by the way, to become the actress Joan Fontaine. They settled in the tiny town of Saratoga, California in what used to be called the Santa Clara Valley and is now known as Silicon Valley.

00:06:11 There were just 800 people in Saratoga, and the family’s phone number was 7. It was the first place Olivia de Havilland ever stepped onto a stage. Life was pretty idyllic there, and she was an A student, but then her mother remarried. She and her sister nicknamed their new stepdad the Iron Duke. One of his rules was that they had to come home straight from school. No after-school activities, ever. De Havilland told the story during a speech she gave at an Academy of Achievement event in 2001, a few years before she sat for an interview.

00:06:48 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: In October of 1932, my English teacher, Margaret Douglas, cast me as the ingénue Violet in the junior play, Mrs. Bumstead Lee. The rehearsals took place after school hours. So at my peril, I broke the second rule and made it home just before the Iron Duke returned from his business in the city of San Jose.

00:07:23 Then one day, after the posters were up, the tickets sold, and the performance of the play only a few days away, my stepfather discovered my treachery. When I came down for breakfast the next morning, my mother said that my stepfather had left for me the following message: "You will either give up the play or leave this house forever."

00:08:00 I went off to school with my decision made. I spent that night and several more with friends of my mother's, went on with the play, and never again slept in the house which I left that morning in October of 1932.

00:08:24 After the play, a group of my mother's friends, having raised for my benefit what was then the munificent sum of $200 — enough to keep me for a year — I rented a pink and white guestroom of a very kind lady named Mrs. Eva Lee Harriman.

00:08:50 For the first time, D's appeared on my report card. I looked at them numbly and did nothing to improve them. Then one day, Miss Douglas and Mr. Bruntz, my history and civics teachers, asked me to stay after school. I do not remember the words they said to me then, but I do remember that they were severe — severe enough to turn my life around.

00:09:34 The next year, I starred in the senior play, edited the yearbook, and graduated second in my class. I also won a scholarship to Mills College. I never got to Mills, but that's another story.

00:09:54 Suffice it to say, the three months after graduating from Los Gatos Union High School, I found myself playing Hermia in Max Reinhardt's fabled Hollywood Bowl production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. In the audience on opening night were Charlie Chaplin, Bette Davis, and a host of other dazzling personages.

00:10:24 And three months after that, I was under contract to Warner Brothers for the film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream with, awaiting me in the distant future, five Academy Award nominations and two Oscars. In December of 1935, I repaid to my mother's friends the sum of $200.

00:10:53 ALICE WINKLER: She was 19. It was the Depression. She was on her own, and acting was looking like her golden ticket. There would be no time for college. The same year she made her debut in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she auditioned for a part in a movie called Captain Blood starring another promising young actor, Errol Flynn.

00:11:15 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: I was called for a test, simply a silent test, just to see how the two of us in costume would look together, and that's when I first met him. And I walked onto the set, and they said, "Would you please stand next to Mr. Flynn?" And I saw him.

00:11:39 Oh, my. Oh, my. I was struck dumb, and I knew it was what the French call a coup de foudre.

00:11:52 ALICE WINKLER: Literally a bolt of lightning.

00:11:55 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: And we just stood there next to each other. Oh. Well, then a few weeks later, after quite a considerable debate had gone on, Betty Davis, for example, had been photographed with him too, and she was the great star on the lot. They had to weigh casting me as Arabella Bishop because we were both, at that time, completely unknown, and they were going to invest what was then a very large sum of money, $800,000, in this production.

00:12:40 Therefore they decided that we should work on some scenes together, not to be filmed, but just so that the producer and director could come — once we had perfected the scene — come down on a stage and just see how we performed together. So one day, we were called together, and we started to rehearse, and then we had a lunch break, and we went off to the commissary, and he walked with me to the commissary.

00:13:15 I had never been in it before, and I got a tray, and he went ahead, and he took his tray to a table, and I filled my tray, and I thought, "Oh, I want to go and sit over there next to him." And I thought, "No, he'll think I am bold, and I can't do that." So I found another place and sat there and ate my lunch in a solitary fashion.

00:13:42 But when I turned in my tray, he turned his in at the same time, so that meant that we walked back to the stage together, and when we got there, no one was there. We were the first, and we sat down on the ramp, which leads from the great open door of the stage to the street, and he asked me — he was 25 years of age when this happened, and I was still 18. He said to me, "What do you want out of life?"

00:14:18 And I thought, "What an extraordinary question to be asked." Nobody's asked me that ever — and, in fact, nobody ever did in the years that followed — and I said, "I would like respect for difficult work well done." And then I said, "Well, what do you want out of life?" and he said, "I want success."

00:14:53 And what he meant by that was fame and riches, both of which he certainly did achieve, but when he said it, I thought, "But that's not enough," and indeed, it proved in Errol's life not to be enough. Well, and then, of course, they decided to cast us together, and we made the film.


00:15:29 ALICE WINKLER: Let me read you the words that appear onscreen in the trailer: "Once again the sea echoes to the thunder of history’s most daring pirate! Swashbuckling leader of a desperate horde. Devil-may-care philanderer. Reckless adventurer. Terror of the Caribbean!" And that’s not a bad description of Errol Flynn the man, but Captain Blood was the first of eight movies that would pair Flynn with De Havilland. Audiences loved their on-screen chemistry.

00:15:57 ARABELLA BISHOP: I see your pirate ways. I see myself bargained for and fought over, a combat between jackals. You pirates are used to taking what you want without the formality of purchase.

00:16:07 PETER BLOOD: I'm thief and pirate, and I'll show you how a thief and a pirate can deal.

00:16:10 ARABELLA BISHOP: I advise you to go back to your ladies at Tortuga who are thrilled by your bow lawless ways.

00:16:15 PETER BLOOD: What matters is that now I own you as once you owned me. You're mine, do you understand?

00:16:19 ALICE WINKLER: The dangerous boy and the good girl with the doe-y brown eyes, but within a few years, De Havilland was feeling typecast and very frustrated.

00:16:29 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: Yes, just, you see, the life of the love interest is really pretty boring. The objective is the marriage bed. That's what the heroine is there for, and: “Will he win or will he not? Will they finally make the marriage bed?”

00:16:53 It was obvious that it would be the marriage bed, not any other bed, but it was all about, would they, in the end, get together that way? Well, and the route to the marriage bed — and that was promised at the end of the film, of course — was a pretty boring route. The heroine really had nothing much to do, except encourage the hero and at the right moment, and you can't imagine how uninteresting that can be.

00:17:32 So I longed to play a character who initiated things, who experienced important things, who expressed — who interpreted the great agonies and joys of human experience, and I certainly wasn't doing that on any kind of level of a significance.

00:18:08 ALICE WINKLER: By the time she and Errol Flynn filmed Dodge City, she was deeply depressed. Her ambition may have been to play complex characters, but she was trapped by Hollywood’s studio system. Warner Brothers, she said, was run as a stock company, and they already had one great dramatic actress, her friend Bette Davis. They had two comic actresses, Glenda Farrell and Joan Blondell.

00:18:33 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: And then they had two ingénues. One was brunette, and one was blonde, and the blonde one was Anita Louise, who was really, I thought, marvelous in Midsummer Night's Dream playing Tatania, and they had Olivia de Havilland, the brunette ingénue. Well, that's how the casting went, you see. It was either the brunette ingénue, or it was the blonde ingénue.

00:19:01 So I had no real opportunity to develop and to explore difficult roles, and that was tiresome. It was.

00:19:19 ALICE WINKLER: Then one day, when she came back from Modesto, where they were shooting Dodge City, the phone rang.

00:19:25 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: The voice said, "You don't know me. We've never met, but I am George Cukor. I've been supervising the preparation of Gone with the Wind, and I will be directing the movie. We are in the process of casting, and I would like to know if you would be interested in playing the role of Melanie."

00:19:51 Well, I said, "I certainly would," and then he said, "Would you consent to doing something highly illegal?" Well I said, "Well, what would that be?" And he said, "You're under contract to Warner Brothers. We have no right to ask this of you, but would you come secretly — tell no one — to the studio? We'll give you directions to what entrance to go, which is a private entrance. Someone will be waiting there for you, and he will unlock the door and let you in and lead you to my office to read some lines, read the part of Melanie."

00:20:43 I said, "Yes. I'd be delighted to do this highly illegal thing." So I did, and I read the lines for George Cukor, and he said, "I think I must call David." And he called David Selznick and said, "David, I think you must hear Miss de Havilland read the part of Melanie."

00:21:07 So it was all arranged that I would go off to David's house — which happened to be a Southern mansion, by the way — up to his house on Sunday at 3:00, having memorized a scene which George then gave me, a scene between Scarlett and Melanie. And so on Sunday, I drove myself up in my little green Buick to David's Southern mansion.

00:21:43 I was shown into this beautiful drawing room, paneled, wood paneled, a lovely room, and in came George and David. Now, I have to explain to you that George was very, very rotund. He also had very dark eyes and very dark hair — very, very curly and very thick — and he wore very thick glasses, thickly rimmed in dark tortoise shell.

00:22:23 He played Scarlett. He played Scarlett passionately, clutching the porches. There we were in this little bay window with the hangings, and I was pleading with “Scarlett, Scarlett!" over something or other, and he was clutching the porches. And there was David standing three feet from us, watching this scene with rapt attention, enthralled, enthralled.

00:22:59 Well, part of my mind, of course, was saying this has to be the most comic thing to witness. Now extraordinarily, extraordinarily, when this was over, David decided that he had found his Melanie. Now Jack Warner utterly refused to lend me for Melanie. He wouldn't hear of it. I even went to call on him and begged him.

00:23:29 He said no, he wouldn't do it. He would not, not lend me to Selznick to play the part of Melanie. I was desperate, and I did something, at age 22, that really was not correct, but I did it. I called Mrs. Warner, who had been an actress — a lovely, lovely woman. Ann Alvarado was her name before she met Jack, and I told her that I would very much like to see her, and would she be kind enough to have tea with me at the Brown Derby?

00:24:11 And she said yes. Well, we met, and I explained how much the part meant to me, and I said, "Would you help me?" She said, "I understand you, and I will help you," and it was through her that Jack eventually agreed, and he says so in his biography: "It was Ann who did it."


00:24:41 ALICE WINKLER: So Jack Warner’s wife convinced him to lend Olivia de Havilland to David O. Selznick, and in exchange, Selznick dropped his one-picture commitment to actor Jimmy Stewart, freeing up Stewart to make a film for Jack Warner. But in the end, it wasn’t really a win-win. Melanie Hamilton may have been just the type of character Olivia de Havilland had been longing to play, but the horse-trading that it took to get her the role fueled Olivia de Havilland’s disgust with Hollywood’s actor contracts.

00:25:12 A couple of years after Gone with the Wind’s release, she wanted out of her Warner Brothers contract. She hired a lawyer and brought a case in court that would make history, forever changing the relationship between studios and actors. The details of the case are a little complicated, but stick with de Havilland as she lays them out.

00:25:33 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: One interesting thing was that all the interesting work that I did — I finally began to do interesting work, like Melanie, but always on loan out to another studio. I was nominated for Melanie for Gone with the Wind, as you know, my work. And then two years later, I was loaned to Paramount for Hold Back the Dawn and was nominated again.

00:26:08 So I realized that it was never Warner's that I was going to have the work that I so much wanted to have.

At the end of my contract, which was May of 1943, Warner's — it was a seven-year contract, or — I must explain that by this time, I knew, after Melanie and Hold Back the Dawn that people really were interested in my work. And they wanted — they would go to see a film because I was in it, and I had a responsibility toward them, among other things.

00:26:50 I couldn't bear to disappoint them by doing indifferent work at an indifferent film, and Warner — Jack would cast me in an indifferent film in an indifferent role, and I thought, "Now I'll have to refuse. I must do it," and I did, and, of course, I was put on suspension. Now the contracts allowed that in those days. If you said, "No, I don't want to do this part," they would then suspend the contract for the length of time it took another actress to play the role, and they would take that period of time, tack it on to the end of the contract.

00:27:30 So in May of 1943, I found myself with six months of suspension time. Warner loaned me immediately for a film I didn't want to do, but I went ahead and I did it. It was fortunately a success, not very good, but it was a big success. At least that was in its favor. And then he loaned me to Columbia.

00:28:07 And it was for a film that had 20 pages of script and a starting date the following Monday. Now there was no hope for that film, none whatsoever. I went to Harry Cohen, the head of the studio, and I said, "Mr. Cohen, I haven't any idea about my character, and I cannot do this film, and you will just have to tell Jack Warner."

00:28:41 ALICE WINKLER: When she refused to make the picture, she was put on suspension for whatever period of time that theoretically it would have taken to make the film. Her agents called her into their offices — it was 1943 — and standing there was Martin Gang, a lawyer later famous for fighting against the Hollywood blacklist during the McCarthy era. But that day, Martin Gang was there to discuss how he thought Olivia de Havilland might get out of her contract.

00:29:10 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: So Martin explained that there was a California law which limited the right of a — an employer to enforce a contract against an employee for more than seven years, and that no actor had dared to take advantage of the law by asking for declaratory relief, which is to say an interpretation of a law as it applied to an actor's contract.

00:29:46 I think a baseball player had done it, but no actor had dared to do it. So I said, "Let's go ahead with it, and we're not gonna get discouraged along the way. We will go straight to the Supreme Court."

Well, we went into court first, the Superior Court, Judge Charles S. Burnell presiding, in November of that year, 1943, and it is true that Warner Brothers' lawyer did put me on the witness stand, and they said, "Be very careful because he will try to make you angry and try and make you appear like a spoiled movie actress."

00:30:36 And, oh, he was so wicked. Oh, (INAUDIBLE), and he would say, accusing me in thunderous tones, "Is it not true, Ms. de Havilland, that on such-and-such a date you failed to report to the set to play such-and-such a role in such-and-such a film?"

00:31:02 And I, remembering Martin Gang's instructions, said, "I didn't refuse. I declined." So all this time now, the judge — I'd noticed that the judge, he had his hand in front of his face, and I couldn't figure out whether it was his spectacles that were twinkling or, in fact, his eyes, but he — we certainly had his attention, and I thought, "Maybe I have a little hope here. I think maybe I had a chance after all."

00:31:40 ALICE WINKLER: Indeed, about three months later, she was up in the Aleutian Islands, visiting patients in a military hospital, when...

00:31:47 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: Someone came to me, a US soldier, and said, "We have a telegram for you." Well, this was really quite extraordinary up there in wartime, and it was from Martin Gang, and it said, "You've won in the superior court of the State of California." The Warners, naturally, appealed immediately and then joined every studio in town from employing me.

00:32:18 Every studio in town — I think they sent out 125 injunctions, and half of the studios no longer existed, but they did a thorough job of that.

00:32:28 ALICE WINKLER: So with no way to work, she went off to the South Pacific to spend more time visiting wounded soldiers, though she came down with pneumonia and ended up a patient herself in the barrack hospital. When she got back to the States, Martin Gang called her, again, with good news. She’d won a unanimous decision in the appellate court.

00:32:50 But Olivia de Havilland had a lot to lose when she filed that case. Even with a win against Warner Brothers, she risked alienating all of the studios.

00:33:00 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: Well, it's true, but there really wasn't any decision for me. One of the nice things I thought was if I do win, other actors feeling frustration such as I feel will not have to endure that. They'll take the suspension, going without pay, of course, but knowing they will not have to serve that time again.

00:33:28 And, indeed, another wonderful thing is this. You know, our fellows, our actors, they were extraordinary in World War II. They all went. They all went. Jimmy Stewart, he was a bomber pilot, 21 raids over Germany. Clark Gable, tail gunner. The others in the Navy, Marine Corps, they were extraordinary.

00:34:07 Now, when they came back, you see, all the time they were at war, they were on suspension. When they came back, they would have to serve that time all over again and at the salary which was, by this time, outmoded. Their services would be infinitely more valuable, but they would still get the same salary that they had been receiving five years before.

00:34:38 And Jimmy Stewart came back, and all those others, Tyrone Power, the lot, and he wanted, of course, to take advantage of my case, and it was suggested that he better not risk anything. It didn't apply to an actor who had gone off to war, and, of course, it did, and that was settled straight away, and therefore, all of those chaps, those brave, splendid young men were able to negotiate new contracts.

00:35:22 ALICE WINKLER: For whatever reason, the studios did not hold a grudge against Olivia de Havilland, or maybe their bottom lines just won out over their grudges. The interesting roles pretty much started to pour in, and I’m gonna take a few minutes to quickly run through some of the highlights. Paramount Pictures offered her To Each His Own, about an unwed mother who’s forced to give up her son to avoid scandal. She watches him grow up from afar as she becomes a successful businesswoman. Olivia de Havilland won her first Oscar for that role.

00:35:55 JODY NORRIS: I'm not his mother. Not really. I know that now. Just bringing a child into the world doesn't make you that. It's being there always.

00:36:10 ALICE WINKLER: Then she played identical twin sisters, one of whom is a murderer, in the movie The Dark Mirror.

00:36:17 TERRY COLLINS: You don't remember what you dream?

00:36:20 RUTH COLLINS: Well, I don't remember even dreaming recently.

00:36:23 TERRY COLLINS: You don't remember my waking you last night when you were sobbing?

00:36:27 RUTH COLLINS: No.

00:36:28 TERRY COLLINS: Nor what you said to me?

00:36:31 RUTH COLLINS: No, what'd I say?

00:36:33 TERRY COLLINS: Such big, deep sobs as if you were terrified, as if you were seeing something so dreadful you couldn’t bear to face it.

00:36:40 ALICE WINKLER: And that was followed by The Snake Pit, a film she jumped at because of her experiences visiting soldiers while her court case was on appeal and she wasn’t allowed to work. Many of the wounded de Havilland spent time with were suffering from mental illness, and she felt inspired by them to help end the huge stigma that they and their families faced. In The Snake Pit, she plays a woman who finds herself in a state asylum, unaware of how she got there.

00:37:10 DR. MARK KIK: What's your name?

00:37:11 VIRGINIA: Virginia Stewart.

00:37:13 DR. MARK KIK: Is that your full name?

00:37:14 VIRGINIA: Isn't it?

00:37:15 DR. MARK KIK: No.

00:37:16 VIRGINIA: Do you know?

00:37:17 DR. MARK KIK: Of course.

00:37:19 VIRGINIA: Tell me.

00:37:20 DR. MARK KIK: Virginia Stewart Cunningham.

00:37:23 VIRGINIA: Cunningham.

00:37:24 DR. MARK KIK: Mrs. Robert Cunningham.

00:37:26 VIRGINIA: Robert.

00:37:27 DR. MARK KIK: Your husband.

00:37:28 VIRGINIA: My husband.

00:37:30 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: That was just after the end of the war, and here was my opportunity to do something about that, and it was a marvelous story. It was an autobiography written by this young woman who had become really seriously mentally ill, was institutionalized, and, remarkably, was cured in a day when they had no drugs at all for treatment.

00:38:09 But the therapy that they used then actually worked in her case, and so I thought, "This will educate families. It will be — people will understand. Patients will understand, and it's a hopeful story because it ends in a cure." And that film, in New York, when it was released, ran one year in one theater.

00:38:37 People flooded to it. I think it was the first serious study of mental illness.

00:38:46 ALICE WINKLER: And it actually helped fuel the movement to reform psychiatric hospitals in the United States. I wanna take a turn and go back to Gone with the Wind here because Olivia de Havilland has a great story about her costars, and besides, I don't want anyone accusing me of malpractice for doing a podcast about Olivia de Havilland with just one peek behind the scenes from that epic. It is, after all, still the number one box office hit of all-time, if you adjust for inflation.

00:39:16 Pretty remarkable for a film made in 1939. Okay, so here’s how Olivia de Havilland described the difference between her style of acting and that of Vivien Leigh, who, of course, played Scarlett O'Hara.

00:39:32 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: Well, you know, Vivien was just a marvel. She was a hard worker, highly professional, a marvel, and between scenes she had this other capacity. She would — it took a long time to light up the sets, as you can well imagine, Technicolor in those days, three cameras of all of these strips of film, three strip cameras, and all of that required quite special lighting and a lot of time to set the scenes in that way.

00:40:13 So Vivien, in between, would find a little quiet place on the set, and she and Gable would play a game called Battleship, and occasionally they would invite me to join them, and I would play, and the assistant director would come and give us warning. He would say, "Ten minutes," something like that, and I would excuse myself to go back to my dressing — not only to check the makeup, but also try to recapture the character of Melanie, which often, just looking in the mirror because the costumes and the hair and all of that did express it so well, I would need that time.

00:41:02 Not Vivien. She would leave — they would say, you know, that "We're ready to shoot, ready to rehearse, ready — " and she would get up from the game of Battleship, go straight into the scene, and play it brilliantly. She was fabulous, fabulous.

00:41:21 ALICE WINKLER: Now if you’re a true Gone with the Wind aficionado, you already know this, but for the neophytes out there, there was lots of turbulence around the production. They went through three different directors during the shooting. Olivia de Havilland’s theory about that is that Clark Gable demanded the changes because he thought the movie was too female-centric, and he wanted Rhett Butler to be more central to the story, which meant, in the end, some of her scenes were cut.

00:41:49 And Clark Gable, she says, had a lot at stake in the success of the picture. Gary Cooper had famously turned down the role of Rhett Butler, convinced the movie would fail, and he wasn’t the only one.

00:42:01 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: Oh, yes. The whole business of casting, putting it together, taking some — almost three years. The whole town was bored with the film. They were so bored with the film, they wished it bad luck, and they all thought it was going to be a big, big flop, a complete disaster, and they were rather pleased at the thought.

00:42:26 Well, we just went ahead, quietly working ahead, on the lot, six months, retakes after that, and just knew — I knew we were making a film that was going to have quite a different history from any other film that had ever been made, and it would endure, and by heaven, it has, has it not?

00:42:56 ALICE WINKLER: Yes, it has. The extraordinary, glamorous, Oscar-winning Olivia de Havilland turns 100 years old on July 1st. I think I speak for everyone listening when I say Ms. De Havilland, we wish you as much happiness on your birthday as you have brought to our lives. I’m Alice Winkler, and this is What It Takes from the Academy of Achievement. Funding for What It Takes comes, as always, from the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation.

00:43:27 OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND: And I suppose you would like to know how actresses of my day differ from actresses of today? Well, the actresses of today are richer.


What It Takes is a podcast of conversations with well-known people in almost every field. The interviews have been recorded over the past 25 years by the American Academy of Achievement. They offer life stories of people who have had a huge impact on the world. They offer insights you can apply to your own life.