The Siren is proud to announce that she was asked by the venerable Sight & Sound to write a tribute to Olivia de Havilland on the occasion of that great lady's 100th birthday, which will occur on July 1. With their permission, she is posting an excerpt. You can purchase Sight & Sound here; if you want to know about all the goodies in the latest issue, click right here.
One thing you won't find in the Sight & Sound tribute, if you pick up a copy (and of course the Siren hopes you do): a discussion of the famous feud with Olivia's sister, Joan Fontaine. This was de Havilland's show all the way. For many years, even as she wrote about Fontaine, the Siren has insisted that she has fully as much admiration for de Havilland. Now, patient readers, the Siren has 2500 words in print to prove it.
|The Snake Pit|
The excerpt follows.
|Hold Back the Dawn|
De Havilland contemplated the studio offering she’d just completed, a third-billed turn in a Brontë sisters’ biopic called Devotion (1946), playing a bizarre version of Charlotte Brontë who flounces around in dainty clothes, steals Emily’s ﬁancé, and is never glimpsed holding a pen. De Havilland sued.
The lovely Livvy was tilting at windmills, was the consensus around town. Asked in her BFI interview if she garnered support from her colleagues, she said, without rancour, “I was rather by myself, because nobody thought I could win.” Her lawyer thought she could, however, by invoking an old California ‘anti-peonage’ (debt slavery) law which forbad contracts that extended past seven years. In November 1943 the case went to trial.
As soon as she ﬁled suit, Jack Warner wrote to every studio in town to remind them that she was still effectively under contract. In court the studio didn’t hesitate to ﬁght dirty, insinuating that an affair was the real reason the actress had turned down one movie. The Warner attorneys, however, hadn’t reckoned on the de Havilland sang froid. She had spent years on set with Michael Curtiz, one of the most notorious yellers in the business; these guys were nothing. So when one lawyer thundered, “Is it not true, Miss de Havilland, that on the morning of January 16, you wantonly refused to show up for work on Stage 8?” “Certainly not,” came the reply in that musical de Havilland voice. “I declined.”
|Dinah Shore, Orson Welles, Frances Langford, Walter Huston and Olivia de Havilland|
|On tour with the USO|
Years before, Bette Davis had failed in her attempt to challenge her contract. Jack Warner had just found out that his all-purpose flower-like ingénue was tougher than Jezebel.