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Monday, June 26, 2006

Olivia DeHavilland --- Part Two

So just what was at stake when Olivia sued Warners to get out of her seven-year (and counting) contract? Well, as it turns out, just six months. That’s how much they’d tacked on after figuring in her suspentions, lost production time, etc. That means she ended up losing nearly three years of screen time for the sake of one sixth that. She stood on principle and won, but was it worth the struggle? Her legal fees must have been astronomical. Warners sent out a letter that effectively blacklisted her during the pendency of the trial, and other than a few radio gigs, she had to idle out all that time with no assurance her public would be waiting at the finish. I’ve got to say this was one gutsy woman. They named the new law after her, and she’s justifiably proud of it to this day. If you took away all Olivia’s movies, she’d still be a noteworthy personage just for this --- the first person to take on the Hollywood slavemasters and win.

Two academy awards within four years must have looked like a sure-fire insurance policy against unemployment, but as things turned out, The Heiress would be both her summit and finish. There just aren’t any outstanding Olivia DeHavilland pictures after that --- at least none that revolve around her. Bette Davis experienced the same thing, and around the same time, with All About Eve. You’re at the top, but there’s younger faces beating at the door, and those increasingly wizened leading men (Flynn, Gable, Cooper, etc.), not to mention post-war starters of the Mitchum, Lancaster, and Kirk Douglas variety, are leaning toward fresher faces for the sake of their own appearance of youth. How it must have rankled to see Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and all the rest scooping up the plum roles Olivia could have more than played. Her own determination to have something of a normal offscreen life does at least partly explain it. DeHavilland’s list of priorities never found movies at the top. Unlike Bette Davis, she never clutched at the work, and bad pictures of the sort Bette embraced were more or less avoided. Grocers like to be paid, however, and that no doubt explains her participation in The Swarm and various TV movies that came later. You gotta hand it to Olivia for still having the juice to play bed scenes as late as 1970 in The Adventurers (not quite as loathsome a picture as its reputation would indicate), and to this day, she makes no apologies for Lady In The Cage, one of the meanest thrillers the sixties ever produced.

Just a comment or two about yesterday’s images. Anybody like to take a guess at what was going through Leslie Howard’s mind when he posed for that 1937 shot with delectable Olivia? Bet she could throw down some ribald anecdotes about him, as Les was without peer among Hollywood seducers --- something tells me he missed the boat with Olivia, however --- though you just know he tried. Same goes for Fredric March (from Anthony Adverse) --- his methods were more direct, I understand, but honestly, when you’re confronted with Olivia at age 19, you can hardly blame the poor man for trying. A commenter from Part One noticed that unretouched shot and wondered if Olivia might have partied to excess the night before --- I say probably not --- a few of those Warner workdays and I’d probably look like Eddie Robinson at the end of Scarlet Street. As for today’s pics, I like this one of director Raoul Walsh conferring with Errol and Olivia during They Died With Their Boots On --- I always bust out crying during that last scene they do together. RC Cola sure got around in those days --- it’s been forty years since I tried one --- maybe it’s time to take another flyer on that sparkling beverage, this time on Olivia’s recommendation.

Stars always looked bored doing radio shows. It’s just reading dialogue, after all, with commercial breaks at that. I understand a lot of screen names dreaded that microphone --- never could get used to the format. Sunday rotogravures are irresistible here at the Greenbriar, mainly because few of them seem to get published elsewhere, so they’re always a kick to run across. Here’s two that Olivia did during the early forties. Maybe I should watch The Snake Pit someday, but I’m still a little afraid of it. I’d rather see our girl smooching with Errol than flailing around an asylum --- anyway, here she is with Mark Stevens. The Heiress was one of the first adult movies I watched and really enjoyed at age fourteen. I thought it then and think it now --- you just can’t make an ugly duckling out of this woman --- and besides that, I think she made a mistake turning the lock on Monty at the end. You know it’s the last chance she’s ever going to get with a man (judging by that sour attitude she’s developed), and it always seemed to me that the guy loved her well enough --- he just didn’t want to have to go out and work for a living. As long as money and lifestyle were part of the package, Morris would have made a great husband, especially with that hateful old Daddy out of the way. One of my favorite pictures ever made, and I keep hoping each time that somehow she’ll surprise me and go running back down those stairs at the end --- but it never happens. Finally, there’s Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Some of us went straight from school one afternoon in 1965 to see that one. We got into the auditorium a few minutes after it started, and the first thing I saw was Bruce Dern getting his hand chopped off. That, plus a Baby Ruth, was sheer nirvana for me. I knew I'd come to the right place. Definitely time to watch this one again. Always love seeing Olivia slapping Bette around in that car --- Now will you shut your mouth --- never tire of that deathless line …


Anonymous ayres orchids said...

Ian Hunter and Bonita Granville look happy enough radioacting, but Olivia does look half asleep there.

Good luck finding any Royal Crown Cola. Supposedly there is still cola sold under the RC brand, but I haven't found a grocery store that sells it in 20 years.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the reason Olivia looks so bored in front of the mic is that she's apparently stuffed her script into her hat? At least, that's what it almost looks like. Maybe she thought that would make it more interesting, and has now discovered that, nope, it's still boring.

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Randy said...

Royal Crown? I suppose it depends on where you live. It's still widely available here, though in tiny quantities compared to the piles of Coke and Pepsi products crowding the soft drink shelves.

1:38 PM  
Anonymous ayres orchids said...

I'm in the Washington, D.C. area, Randy... but grew up drinking RC down south. Where you?

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey! lovet his blog!

12:32 PM  
Blogger Director Robert said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Director Robert said...

Your comments about Livvie "becoming" Melanie in private life really rang the bell. Her appearance in the recent GWTW DVD is frustrating to watch (what she said versus what she really knows--in addition to her crazily affected performance). I guess the bottom line is that when you reach 90, you've earned the right to be eccentric. She and I corresponded in the 1970s and she was always gracious, and I remember fondly her 1978 or so appearance on Dinah Shore talking about Flynn. I don't suppose anybody's got an old tape or kine of that one?

2:25 PM  

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