Dame Olivia de Havilland was an iconic Hollywood legend beloved by fans all over the world, spanning multiple generations. Boasting a lengthy career as a popular leading lady, her 104 years made her a witness to many changes within the film industry and in history. Moreover, she secured highly coveted roles in Hollywood films such as Captain Blood (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Gone With the Wind (1939), The Heiress (1949), and so many more.
In addition to working alongside leading men such as Errol Flynn, Leslie Howard, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, Dick Powell, to name a few, a talent for acting ran in her blood. Her mother, Lillian Fontaine, was an actress and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. de Havilland’s sister, Joan Fontaine, would also rise to great success as a notable actress in her own right. In fact, she and her sister remain the only siblings to have won major acting Academy Awards.
Though de Havilland left behind a fine legacy and wide breadth of films for audiences to enjoy after her passing on July 26, 2020, an accurate portrayal of her long and accomplished life is more than deserved. Though de Havilland was notoriously private, especially as she became older, she had a deep joy for life, appreciated her fans, and held a strong sense of respect for not only herself but to the industry colleagues whom she held dear. She was professional in her responses to fans worked hard to protect her image and personal life. Consequently, many aspects of de Havilland’s life were fabricated by fan magazines looking to stir up stories regarding this popular but fairly private star.
Author Victoria Amador, like many of de Havilland’s fans, expressed an interest in exploring de Havilland’s filmography after viewing Gone With the Wind. Captivated by her portrayal of Melanie Wilkes, Amador would pursue more of de Havilland’s films and connect with de Havilland corresponding with her after sending a fateful fan letter. Their correspondence continued over the years, eventually resulting in a friendship, which implored Amador to pursue writing a biography about de Havilland.
While de Havilland cautioned Amador that almost nothing written about her in the past had been true, Amador took on the challenge of writing Olivia de Havilland: Lady Triumphant, published by University Press of Kentucky. Drawing from her forty years of personal correspondence with de Havilland as well as their in-person meetings, Amador has created an in-depth exploration of the life and career of the revered actress. Taking readers from de Havilland’s early life in Japan through to her move to Europe, Amador excels in this engaging and thoughtful tribute to a Hollywood legend and friend.
Overall, the narrative is exceptional and invitingly guides readers along the fascinating and accomplished life led by de Havilland. Perhaps most enjoyable to me, however, is the clear sense of celebration and enthusiasm conveyed by Amador in being able to profile this legend. Her respect and appreciation of de Havilland’s life are evident throughout the text, as is her joy for being able to connect so deeply with a talented actress revered by so many.
Update (Nov. 2021): A paperback edition of the book was released to incorporate a new chapter. The new chapter, located at the end of the book, includes information about de Havilland’s passing, additional anecdotes, and a discussion about her legacy today.
Olivia de Havilland: Lady Triumphant is available for purchase via the University Press of Kentucky website.