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The Collection of Olivia de Havilland

13 – 23 May 2023

When actress Olivia de Havilland met the formidable Queen of Warner Bros., Bette Davis, on the set of In This Our Life (1942), Davis' initial competitive instinct was to upstage de Havilland. She couldn't have been more surprised when de Havilland ignored her actions and approached Davis with self-confidence, playfulness, and warmth. From that point on, there was no rivalry between the two; instead, they became lifelong friends. Not your average Hollywood story. But then again, Olivia de Havilland was not your average Hollywood actress.

Dame Olivia de Havilland had the distinction of being a strong and spirited personality that, coupled with her grace and kindness, made her an anomaly in the cutthroat world of Hollywood. Born in Tokyo in 1916, de Havilland was brought to the United States when she was a child. Whether her feistiness was innate or developed because of this environment, it served her well during a life and career which brought about many challenges.

Acting was in the de Havilland blood; her mother was an actress and encouraged her daughters to perform in stage plays in their hometown of Saratoga, California. After catching the eye of Max Reinhardt, who cast her in a stage version of A Midsummer Night's Dream and then in the film version, de Havilland became an overnight sensation in Hollywood, even as she struggled with whether or not that was the trajectory to which she aspired.

Almost immediately, she was paired with another newcomer at Warner Bros., Errol Flynn. Together they made eight movies, and made film history with their dazzling on-screen chemistry in such films as Captain Blood (1935), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and others. At the same time that she was experiencing this success, she was feeling restricted by her Warner Bros. contract which limited the depth of her roles and forbade her participation in stage plays. Every time she took a suspension, her seven-year contract was extended, a seemingly vicious cycle that saw no end in sight to her contractual obligation.

A mere six years after her first major film role, de Havilland appeared in producer David O. Selznick's Civil War epic, Gone with the Wind (1939), believed by many to be the greatest movie ever made. On loan from Warner Bros. to Selznick, she was subsequently nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award and is best remembered for this role as the sweet but steely Melanie Hamilton Wilkes. One would think that there was no place to go but down after this fast track to stardom, but de Havilland was a force of nature who had only scratched the surface of her talent and fortitude.

In the years that she was dealing with the restrictions of her Warner Bros. contract, de Havilland became more and more frustrated. She decided to take on the studio by filing a lawsuit, something Bette Davis had previously tried and in which she failed to succeed. In the historic 1943 case, de Havilland won the suit which became known as "The de Havilland Decision." She felt it was one of her greatest professional accomplishments, as it paved the way for performers to have creative freedom and avoid being locked in never-ending contracts. She paid the price for her perseverance by being virtually blacklisted for the next few years, during which she used her time to contribute to the World War II effort and other philanthropic endeavors.

The late 1940s would bring de Havilland both personal and professional happiness. Her marriage to Marcus Goodrich resulted in the birth of their son, Benjamin, and her career reached its professional peak with three Best Actress Academy Award nominations, two of which she won, for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949). She was one of the top box office moneymakers during this time and into the 1950s and '60s with such films as Devotion (1946), The Snake Pit (1948), My Cousin Rachel (1952), Not as a Stranger (1955), Light in the Piazza (1962), Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), Lady in a Cage (1964), and many others. In 1951, she returned to her stage roots and appeared on Broadway as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, again in 1952 in Candida, and in 1962, she paired with her old co-star from 1942's The Male Animal, Henry Fonda, in A Gift of Time.

In a testament to her ability as an actress, de Havilland never found herself stereotyped; once she was freed from her Warner Bros. contract and the romantic ingenue roles from many of her early films, de Havilland played characters of rich texture, ones that challenged her and revealed to audiences the depths of her dramatic aptitude.

In the mid 1950s, de Havilland married Paris Match Secretaire General, Pierre Galante, moved to Paris and gave birth to daughter Gisele. It was a courageous move for a woman whose career was still going strong in the United States, but family and motherhood were of the upmost importance to de Havilland. She continued making movies and took on the medium of television, appearing in miniseries, TV movies, and episodic television, along the way garnering a Golden Globe for Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986). Her philanthropic efforts continued as well, resulting in honours such as the French Legion of Honour and being made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Her last professional television role was in 1988, but she remained in the public eye throughout the rest of her life, even demonstrating for photographers how she could still ride a bike shortly before her death in 2020 at the age of 104.

In the current show business industry in which performers receive 15 minutes of fame and are christened legendary and iconic, a true example of these terms, such as Dame Olivia de Havilland, stands out. Add to those monikers the fact that she was an award-winning actress, a doting mother, a groundbreaking litigator, and a passionate humanitarian, and you have touched on just some of the many qualities that made Olivia de Havilland an extraordinary human being.

A portion of the proceeds from this sale will be donated to the American Cathedral in Paris, where de Havilland was a supportive patron for many years.

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