Happy 102nd….

Happy 102nd….

Photo credit: Janet Donovan

Happy 102nd to Olivia de Havilland who celebrated another birthday yesterday.  The below article was first printed last year.

Legendary actress Olivia de Havilland celebrated her 101st birthday today. Considered the last star of the Golden Age of Hollywood, she is best known for her role as Melanie in Gone with the Wind and her Oscar winning performance in The Heiress, directed by three time Oscar winner William Wyler.  Less known, but no less important, is the De Havilland Law, a gutsy challenge to the grip of the studios.

Olivia-DeHavilland

Olivia de Havilland     Photo credit: Creative Commons

“The De Havilland Law is the informal name of California Labor Code Section 2855. Hollywood industry lawyers in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s took the position that an exclusive personal services contract should be treated as suspended during the periods when the artist was not actually working. Since no artist could be working every single day (that is, including holidays and weekends), this interpretation meant that two, or later seven, years of actual service would be spread over a much longer calendar period, thus extending the time during which the studio system had complete control of a young artist’s career. In response, actress Olivia de Havilland filed a lawsuit on August 23, 1943 against Warner Bros. which was backed by the Screen Actors Guild. The lawsuit resulted in a landmark decision of the California Court of Appeal for the Second District in De Havilland’s favor on December 8, 1944. De Havilland’s legal victory reduced the power of the studios and extended greater creative freedom to performers. The decision was one of the most significant and far-reaching legal rulings in Hollywood. The decision came to be informally known, and is still known to this day, as the De Havilland Law.”   Wikipedia

Catherine Wyler

“At the beginning of World War II, it turned out that the studios thought that all of the men who went off to war were just going to have to have all the time that they were away fighting added onto their studio contracts, ” filmmaker Catherine Wyler (think Memphis Bell) & daughter of director William Wyler told Hollywood on the Potomac at a dinner celebration for Ms. de Havilland in her home. “They already had seven-year contracts, and the studio thought if they’re gone three years fighting in Europe, they’ll just come back and have three more years tacked on to their contracts. At the time, Olivia was offered a part that she didn’t want. Of course, if you didn’t take a part they wanted you to play, all kinds of bad things happened to you. Mainly, you were cut. The time that it took to make that movie was added on to your contract. When they tried to do that to Olivia, she took them to court, and after a prolonged battle, she actually won. That made her the darling of all the sailors and soldiers and airmen from Hollywood who went to war because they came home and the studios had to give them new contracts.”

Catherine Wyler

“She did Gone with the Wind before the war had came out in ’39,” Wyler added. “The Heiress came out in ’49, so that was a post-war film. My father was off at the war too, so he didn’t make any films except for the government during that time. I think people who know about her know about it because she’s quite proud of it. In fact, she told me recently that the only kind of interview she wants to do now have to do with the films she made that had a social effect. The Snake Pit was one. That really had an effect on the way people were treated in mental institutions. The De Havilland decision was the other thing that had an important social effect. I met her when I was quite young. I would generally get to go on the set once or twice and meet everybody and then be shuffled off. I met her again about eight or ten years ago in Paris, and we became very good friends. I must say she’s a darling person as witty and smart as she ever was, I think. That’s why we’re celebrating her hundredth birthday (last year).”

On this day last year, Ms. de Havilland received a video from Catherine’s dinner guests in the form of a rather off key musical rendition of Happy Birthday!  Good to know that it’s the thought that counts.

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