PARIS – Olivia de Havilland, the doe-eyed actress beloved to millions as the sainted Melanie Wilkes of “Gone With the Wind,” but also a two-time Oscar winner and an off-screen fighter who challenged and unchained Hollywood's contract system, died Sunday at her home in Paris. She was 104.
De Havilland, the sister of fellow Oscar winner Joan Fontaine, died peacefully of natural causes, said New York-based publicist Lisa Goldberg.
De Havilland was among the last of the top screen performers from the studio era and the last surviving lead from “Gone With the Wind,” an irony, she once noted, since the fragile, self-sacrificing Wilkes was the only major character to die in the film. The 1939 epic, based on Margaret Mitchell's best-selling Civil War novel and winner of 10 Academy Awards, is often ranked as Hollywood's box office champion (adjusting for inflation), although it is widely condemned for its glorified portrait of slavery and antebellum life.
De Havilland's career spanned six decades. She earned an Academy Award in 1946 for her performance in “To Each His Own,” a melodrama about out-of-wedlock birth. A second Oscar came three years later for “The Heiress,” in which she portrayed a plain young homebody.
She was Errol Flynn's co-star in a series of dramas, Westerns and period pieces, most memorably as Maid Marian in “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”
She sued Warner Bros. in 1943 when the studio tried to keep her under contract after it had expired, claiming she owed six more months. De Havilland prevailed, with the California Court of Appeals ruling that no studio could extend an agreement without the performer's consent.