Olivia de Havilland Opens Up About Her Love for Married Errol Flynn – and Romance with Jimmy Stewart

Olivia de Havilland also opens up to PEOPLE about her past relationships with John Huston and Howard Hughes

Photo: Bettmann/Getty

Accomplished and alluring, Olivia de Havilland dated her share of Hollywood’s most dashing power players at the height of her career.

Now, the Gone with the Wind actress, who turned 100 last Friday, reflects on the high-profile romances that intrigued a nation, speaking to PEOPLE about her deep feelings for Errol Flynn, dalliances with John Huston and Howard Hughes – and passing on the role of George Bailey’s wife in It’s a Wonderful Life because she felt uncomfortable working alongside former love Jimmy Stewart.

“It would have meant playing opposite Jimmy Stewart, home from the wars. I knew it would be awkward to work with him because of our many months together in a sort of high school pre-war romance, which came to an end,” she tells PEOPLE in the magazine’s new issue.

Stewart and de Havilland shared “many months” together as a couple and at least one historic date when he accompanied her to the New York premiere of Gone With The Wind in 1939.

The couple’s budding romance filled gossip columns with rumors of imminent elopement until their relationship ended around the time of Stewart’s enlistment in March 1941, nine months before Pearl Harbor.

For more on Olivia de Havilland’s life and lovers, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Five years later, having flown combat missions over Europe, the actor who had previously won an Oscar for Mr. Smith Goes To Washington returned to Hollywood a seemingly changed man. A Princeton graduate (he studied architecture before acting), Stewart’s choice for his first post-war role was as George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life – a take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Before production began, de Havilland was offered the part of Mary Bailey, but turned it down, as did other stars including Ginger Rogers, Jean Arthur, Laraine Day, Martha Scott and Ann Dvorak. Donna Reed ultimately accepted the role.

Curiously, the film, which was rushed into theaters for Christmas 1946, failed at the box-office before earning its place in film history.

Nonetheless, Stewart’s performance as George Bailey was recognized that year with an Oscar nomination – as was de Havilland (for her role in To Each His Own).

He lost. She won.

Meanwhile, de Havilland tells PEOPLE Stewart may have been more like George Bailey than we’ll ever know.

“In retrospect, I think Jimmy was a very complex man and revealed himself to very few people,” she says.

De Havilland did not have similar qualms about appearing alongside another actor close to her heart: Errol Flynn.

The pair ultimately starred in eight films together – including 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood – and their onscreen chemistry was undeniable.

Both have confessed to being in love with the other – despite Flynn’s marriages to other women – and both have denied the relationship was consummated.

Today, de Havilland concedes, “there are no word to describe my feelings for Errol Flynn.”

Nor, she says, “enough words to describe my feeling for a certain other Irishman.” In 1941, John Huston directed de Havilland in In This Our Life, starting a lengthy wartime love affair.

Now, de Havilland praises him as an “extraordinary” man: “Wonderful to talk to and listen to, most of the time fascinating company.”

The actress, who reportedly once rebuffed advanced from a certain Naval lieutenant named John F. Kennedy, also dated billionaire Howard Hughes at the height of his appeal.

The aviator/producer, she says, was “honest, fair; I never ceased to admire and like him.”

De Havilland ultimately went on to marry Navy veteran, journalist and author Marcus Goodrich in 1946, although the marriage ended in divorce in 1953. Two years later she wed Pierre Galante, an editor at Paris Match. They amicably separated in 1962 and remained close until his death in 1998. She still resides in Paris.

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