The world rolled by Errol Flynn’s 101st birthday on June 20, and Olivia de Havilland’s 94th birthday is coming up on July 1. Personally, I hate birthdays and believe in my mother’s adage about her own—when someone would ask her what she wanted for her birthday she would reply, “Let’s just cut that date out of the calendar.” I honestly believe that this practice helped to extend her life, and if Olivia feels similarly, then I would understand. However, when one gets to be 94, there ought to be a fair amount of pride in the number, considering that she was born during World War I, grew up in the Great Depression, dated Howard Hughes, appeared in the most celebrated motion picture of all time, worked with future U.S. President Ronald Reagan, entertained the troops in World War II, and turned young Navy man John F. Kennedy down for a date—all by age 30! In the decade after that she won two Best Actress Academy Awards, married, had a child, divorced, married again, and left the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />United States for a life in France. In her 40s she had another child and wrote a highly entertaining book, and over these decades turned out an outstanding body of film work—including eight pictures with Errol Flynn, including several classics—and appeared in many plays on and off Broadway.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
That Olivia will turn 94 in a few days is surprising considering that she was frail and sickly in her youth, almost died of an appendicitis attack in 1940 and then of pneumonia in 1944, smoked a good bit, drank her fair share, and on occasion suffered bouts of depression, sometimes severe. With this track record, how on earth did she get to be a strong 94 and counting? After two years of research, my answer is that she is now displaying the same traits that helped her become a celebrated performer, a victor in the courts, and the survivor of trauma and tragedy. Olivia de Havilland is equal parts brains, determination, and stubbornness. She best described herself in 1958 as “a man in a woman’s body,” meaning that in a man’s world she could use the means at her disposal to prosper. And into 2010 she continues to live a rich and yes, an historic life, which is chronicled in the forthcoming hardcover, Errol & Olivia: Ego & Obsession in Golden Era Hollywood, coming October 1 from GoodKnight Books.
May I say directly: Happy Birthday, Miss de Havilland, and, Cheers!
— Robert Matzen