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De Havilland returns to Hollywood for tribute

‘Gone with the Wind’ star only fourth person to receive such honors
/ Source: The Associated Press

Olivia de Havilland, the last surviving star of the 1939 classic “Gone with the Wind” and two-time winner of the Oscar as best actress, will receive another accolade Thursday evening — a rare tribute from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.“I’m told I’m only the fourth person to get such a tribute,” she said proudly in advance of the ceremony. It will feature film clips of de Havilland’s long career, accompanied by her own remembrances.On a recent afternoon, de Havilland sat for an interview in her daughter Giselle’s sunswept garden in Malibu, shaded by a towering red bougainvillea tree. Dressed smartly, only her snow-white hair gave hint of her age. Unlike some divas, she makes no secret of how old she is.“I’ll be 90 on July 1,” she announced. “I can’t wait to be 90! Another victory!”De Havilland hasn’t acted in almost 20 years, her last performances having been in television movies— as the Russian empress in “Anastasia,” as Aunt Bessie in “The Woman I Love,” the story of the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson, and as the Queen Mother in “Charles and Diana.”Does she miss the acting life?“Not at all,” she replied. “Life is too full of events of great importance. That is more absorbing and enriching than a fantasy life.“I don’t seem to need a fantasy life as I once did. That is the life of the imagination that I had a great need for. Films were the perfect means for satisfying that need.”Family firstFor 10 years at the end of the century, she was unable to work because of family matters. Her son, Benjamin Goodrich, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease at 17, died in 1992 after a long illness. He was 42.Her second husband, Pierre Galante, editor of the magazine Paris Match, fell ill with lung cancer. Even though they had divorced in 1979, Olivia helped with his care. “Since he lived across the street from my house, it was easy,” she says. He died in 1998.During the same period, she was helping Giselle, her daughter with Galante, make it through periods of depression.When Giselle called on April 14 with news of her husband’s death, her mother asked, “Do you want me there?” Giselle said yes, and de Havilland left Paris and was in Malibu the next day. She hasn’t left.De Havilland was in her first year of college when she was chosen to play Hermia in a stage extravaganza of “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” That led to a Warner Bros. contract and her dream of becoming a dramatic actress in films. Her first movie: a low-budget comedy with Joe E. Brown.The studio kept her busy as the love interest for swashbuckling Errol Flynn and in unsatisfying roles. Finally she rebelled and was suspended for refusing a script. She was off the screen for three years before winning her freedom in court. Only then did her career blossom.“I cannot say that work was happy,” de Havilland reflected. “It was intensely absorbing. You invested your entire self in what you’re doing.“If you see a film and you forget that the character you’re watching is yourself and you wonder what she’s going to do next... that’s deeply satisfying.”She cited “The Snake Pit,” in which she played a patient in an insane asylum, as the role that satisfied her most. Also in that category: “The Heiress,” “To Each his Own” and “Dark Mirror,” in which she played twins, one good, one bad. She does not mention her most famous role, as Melanie in “Gone with the Wind.”She won her Oscars for “To Each His Own” and “The Heiress.”In 1953 de Havilland moved to Paris, partly to avoid a possible lawsuit by her divorced husband, author Marcus Goodrich, over custody of Benjamin, partly because she was in love with a charming Frenchman, Galante. She has long resided in a three-story house near the Bois de Boulogne.Memoirs on the horizonFor many years de Havilland has been talking about writing her memoirs. Now it may happen.“I couldn’t write it until I knew more about my beginnings,” she reasoned. “So I went to England and visited the place where my mother had been born, where my grandfather had been born, where my parents had married. I hired a researcher in England to do more hunting for me.”She also gave a researcher in San Francisco a list of her memories as a 2-year-old newly arrived from Japan, where she had been born to her English parents. He produced evidence that her memories about places and happenings were correct.“The researchers were very expensive, but it was worth it,” she remarked. “Now I think I can start writing and see it through.”