Olivia de Havilland gets candid with PEOPLE on her 100th birthday
Legendary actress Olivia de Havilland turned a stylish 100 on Friday, celebrating her milestone birthday with dinner, drinks and, as she told PEOPLE, surrounded by family and “dear, dear” friends.
The evening began at 5 p.m. with cocktails for 30+ guests in a Paris hotel. During before dinner toasts, congratulatory notes were read aloud from four presidents, including Obama, both Bushes as well as both Clintons. Afterwards, a raspberry-bordered cake, surrounded by rose petals, with candles and sparklers, was presented to her.
The surprised two-time Oscar winner, blew out every candle on the cake, without any help.
Guests then saw a compilation reel showing film clips from Midsummer Night’s Dream and Gone With The Wind through To Each His Own, Hold Back The Dawn, The Snake Pit, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, applauding her at its conclusion, toasting her with an encore glass of champagne.
In next week’s issue of PEOPLE, Hollywood’s most elegant legend opens up about her life, career and romances, saying she is “content with the role that life has given me a centenarian!”
And now in a frank interview, the leading lady – whose delightful 1962 memoir Every Frenchman Has One has been reissued by Crown Archetype / Random House – says she’s “honored” to be called the last star of the Golden Age of Hollywood and reveals that heartthrob Jared Leto – whom she says left her “enchanted” – visited her Parisian home to pay pilgrimage.
Long before anyone coined the phrase “gender equality,” de Havilland was a pioneer who took on and beat the studio system. She is, in fact, one of a very few who can claim having both a star on Hollywood Boulevard and a California law (Labor Code Section 2855) named for them.
After she challenged Warner Bros. over the terms of her contract, the 1944 de Havilland Decision, “made it clear that California law limits to seven years the time an employer can enforce a contract with an employee.”
In 2010, de Havilland began corresponding (she’s very much into email and hand-written notes) with Leto, whose attorneys were citing it as precedent to exit him from a recording contract.
“I was more than surprised to hear from Jared Leto,” she says: “I was enchanted! He came to my house to thank me for the de Havilland Decision, which he and his band, 30 Seconds to Mars, had utilized victoriously in a similar contractual dispute.
“It’s wonderful knowing that the Decision continues to be useful to artists and other professionals these many years later.”
Born in Japan of English parentage, then naturalized and raised in California, de Havilland made her screen debut in 1935 in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She’s been slapped around by Bette Davis in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte and starred in Lady in a Cage with James Caan and opposite Montgomery Clift in The Heiress.
She discusses many aspects of her personal and professional life, her friends, fabled romances (they’re not whom you expect) and touches on a number of her film roles – including two surprising classics she turned down: It’s A Wonderful Life and A Streetcar Named Desire.
In the midst of her Hollywood career and a divorce, de Havilland uprooted to France.
Invited to attend the 1953 Cannes Film Festival where she would the first woman to ever to be named President of the festival jury 12 years later, she arrived in France for her very first-ever visit and in extremely short order met and “married the very first Frenchman I’d met in France,” had a daughter and bought the Paris home (“a little white house, as tall and narrow as a chimney”) where she has lived for more than 60 years.
Asked if there’s any advice she’d give to her younger self, she replies, “Take a long leave of absence from the Warner contract and go to Mills College, where the scholarship I had won in 1934 is still waiting for me!”
Addressed her troubled relationship with her sister, fellow Oscar winner Joan Fontaine, de Havilland simply says it was at stoked by the media.
She told the Associated Press: “A feud implies continuing hostile conduct between two parties. I cannot think of a single instance wherein I initiated hostile behavior.”
She added, “But I can think of many occasions where my reaction to deliberately inconsiderate behavior was defensive.”
Of their dynamic as sisters, she noted, “On my part, it was always loving, but sometimes estranged and, in the later years, severed. … ‘Dragon Lady,’ as I eventually decided to call her, was a brilliant, multi-talented person, but with an astigmatism in her perception of people and events which often caused her to react in an unfair and even injurious way.’ ”
Asked what she would say if her sister were alive for her birthday she responded, “Out of self-protection I would maintain my silence!”