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Remembering Olivia de Havilland's Career on Broadway

The two-time Oscar winner died at 104 this weekend.

Olivia de Havilland circa the 1940s
(publicity image via Wikimedia Commons)

The legendary actor Olivia de Havilland died July 26 at the age of 104 in Paris, France. Over the course of her storied career, de Havilland earned five Academy Award nominations, winning two, for To Each His Own and The Heiress. But her professional career began in a historic stage production.

Born July 1, 1916 in Tokyo, Japan, de Havilland was raised with an appreciation of the arts. As a child, her mother would give her elocution lessons through the recitation of Shakespeare passages. As a teenager, she made her amateur stage debut in Alice in Wonderland with the Saratoga Community Players, while appearing at school in The Merchant of Venice. De Havilland was forced by family to choose between playing the role of Elizabeth Bennet in a school production of Pride and Prejudice or being forced to leave home. She chose the former, and moved in with a family friend.

The summer after de Havilland graduated from high school, she was given the role of Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream in Saratoga. It was there that she was discovered by the team of Austrian director Max Reinhardt, who was planning to stage the Shakespeare play at the Hollywood Bowl. De Havilland was offered a second understudy position for the role of Hermia, but a week before the show began, both the first understudy, Jean Rouverol, and the originally cast actress, Gloria Stuart, left the project, elevating de Havilland to the role full time. She played Hermia on a four-week tour and late reprised her performance on screen in 1935, launching her long and prosperous film career.

In addition to her many screen appearances — de Havilland was the last surviving major cast member of Gone With the Wind — she was a regular on stage. She made her Broadway debut in 1951 as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, to mixed reviews. The next year, she played the title role in Herman Shumlin's production of Shaw's Candida, eventually taking the show on tour. A decade later, she starred in Garson Kanin's A Gift of Time, opposite Henry Fonda.

De Havilland lived in Paris since the early 1950s, and received honors such as the National Medal of the Arts, France's Légion d'Honneur, and the appointment to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She is preceded in death by her son, Benjamin Goodrich, and her sister, the actress Joan Fontaine. She is survived by her daughter, Gisele Galante Chulack, her son-in-law Andrew Chulack, and her niece Deborah Dozier Potter.

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