Olivia de Havilland’s Greatest On-Screen Performances
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
A year before Gone With the Wind was released, de Havilland starred as Maid Marian in the original Adventures of Robin Hood. De Havilland stood out in this role, playing an intelligent, heroic woman—a contrast to many of the other roles she was cast in at the time. This film is considered to be de Havilland’s big break, launching her to true movie stardom.
Gone With the Wind (1939)
De Havilland worked hard to get her part as Melanie Hamilton in the film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. She was under contract at the Warner Bros. studio at the time, but had been secretly courted by rival studio MGM for the part. She ended up convincing Warner Bros. to lend her out to play the selfless, quietly strong Melanie. And that work proved to be worth it—de Havilland received her first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She lost out to her costar Hattie McDaniel, who became the first African American performer to win an Academy Award for her portrayal of Mammy.
Hold Back the Dawn (1941)
Just 2 years after the epic Gone With the Wind, de Havilland starred in the dramatic romance Hold Back the Dawn, which tells the story of a Romanian gigolo hoping to gain entry to the United States by marrying an American citizen—and de Havilland plays his mark, but the two end up falling for each other. Hold Back the Dawn earned de Havilland a second Academy Award nomination—this time for Best Actress. Also nominated for Best Actress that same year? Olivia’s sister, Joan Fontaine. Joan ended up winning the award that night, fueling an infamous feud between the film star sisters.
To Each His Own (1946)
The actress’s next big role would end up earning her her first Academy Award. In To Each His Own, de Havilland plays Josephine Norris, a young, unmarried mother who gives her son up for adoption to avoid scandal, but follows his life from afar for decades after. Over the course of the movie, de Havilland ages almost 30 years, a character transformation she impressively owned and was recognized for when she won the Oscar for Best Actress.
The Snake Pit (1948)
De Havilland again received a great amount of praise for her portrayal of Virginia Cunningham in The Snake Pit, one of the earliest films that tried to accurately portray mental illness and also shed light on the poor state of mental institutions. Virginia is placed in a mental institution by her husband after suffering a mental breakdown, and receives a variety of now-controversial therapy treatments—a challenging role de Havilland was commended for. She received another Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her performance.
The Heiress (1949)
After seeing the play on Broadway, de Havilland encouraged a film director to pursue turning The Heiress into a movie, in which she saw herself playing the main character. De Havilland plays Catherine Sloper, a young naive woman who falls for a young man her emotionally abusive father believes to be a fortune hunter. Her performance earned her a fourth Best Actress Oscar nomination—and for the second time, she won.