What can I say about Olivia de Havilland, who passed away two days ago at the age of 104, that I haven’t already said? On the occasion of her 100th birthday, in 2016, I wrote about her talent and accomplishments. Many articles about her talk about her landmark legal victory against Warner Brothers that set a precedent, changing the profession for all actors who followed her. She fought to get better roles and she got them and rose to the occasion.
Her fragile, layered performance in The Snake Pit is a strong portrait of madness. Her trajectory from guileless innocent to frightened recluse in The Heiress is extraordinary and heartbreaking. But her work in the 1930s, in Gone with the Wind and Captain Blood, are also fantastic. Her exceptional beauty was paired with warmth and sensitivity of spirit that any swashbuckler should be honoured to fight for.
She remains the definitive Maid Marian in the definitive Robin Hood. It may not have been the most demanding role of her career but few could’ve made it so memorable. Opposite her frequent costar Errol Flynn, she was part of a cast impeccably suited to their roles, also including Eugene Palette as Friar Tuck, Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisbourne, Alan Hale as Little John, and Claude Rains as Prince John. These portrayals have shaped impressions of the characters ever since.
Obviously her death was inevitable but I’m sorry to see her go. Somehow knowing she was out there was a comforting reminder that a piece of old Hollywood was still alive. But we still have the movies.