Gone With The Wind's de Havilland dies

Star of Hollywood's golden age Olivia de Havilland has died at the age of 104.
Star of Hollywood's golden age Olivia de Havilland has died at the age of 104.

Gone With the Wind star Olivia de Havilland, considered the last surviving actress of the Golden Age of Hollywood, has died at the age of 104.

She died of natural causes on Sunday at her home in Paris, where she had lived for more than 60 years, the Hollywood Reporter said, citing her publicist.

De Havilland first drew attention by playing opposite swashbuckling Errol Flynn in a series of films starting in the 1930s and made an enduring impression as the demure Southern belle Melanie in Gone With the Wind in 1939.

Later she would have to fight to get more challenging roles - a battle that ended up in court but paid off with Oscars for To Each His Own in 1946 and The Heiress in 1949.

De Havilland, a naturalised American who was born to English parents in Japan, had lived in Paris since 1953.

She made few public appearances after retiring but returned to Hollywood in 2003 to take part in the 75th Academy Awards show.

De Havilland began her movie career after director Max Reinhardt saw her in a California production of A Midsummer Night's Dream and cast her in his 1935 film version of the play.

Warner Bros was impressed and, as was the custom at the time, signed the teenager to a seven-year contract.

Warners loaned her out to make Gone With the Wind in 1939 and de Havilland's gentle but wilful personality helped make the role of Melanie one of the movie's most intriguing parts.

The role earned her the first of her five Oscar nominations.

"I felt very drawn to Melanie," de Havilland later said.

"She was a complex personality compared to the heroines I'd been playing over and over."

In 1943 de Havilland declared her seven-year deal with Warners had expired but the studio said she still owed them six months she spent on suspension in rows with the studio.

De Havilland won in court, weakening the major studios' dominance over actors by limiting actors' contracts to seven years, regardless of suspension time.

She made a triumphant return to the screen in 1946 with the Oscar-winning role of an unwed mother in To Each His Own.

Three years later her portrayal of a spinster brought another Academy Award for The Heiress.

The Oscars provided fodder and a venue for de Havilland's rivalry with Fontaine, who was one year younger.

Their relationship had been testy since childhood and the acrimony reached a new level in 1942 when the sisters were both Oscar-nominated - de Havilland for Hold Back the Dawn and Fontaine for Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion.

Fontaine was the winner.

Four years later when de Havilland won for To Each His Own, Fontaine extended a congratulatory hand at the ceremony but de Havilland did not acknowledge her - a moment captured by photographers.

De Havilland reportedly was upset about a catty remark by Fontaine about her husband, writer Marcus Goodrich.

The sisters stopped speaking altogether in 1975 after their mother died.

When Fontaine died at age 96 in December 2013, de Havilland issued a statement saying she was "shocked and saddened".

Australian Associated Press