(CNN) — Olivia de Havilland, a two-time Oscar winner and for decades the last surviving star of “Gone With the Wind,” has died at age of 104, her publicist Lisa Goldberg told CNN. The actress died July 26 of natural causes at her residence in Paris, Goldberg said. She lived in Paris for nearly six decades. De Havilland emerged as a star during the classic movie era — first as a romantic partner for Errol Flynn in swashbucklers such as”Captain Blood” and “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and then as Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in “Gone With the Wind” (1939), considered the top moneymaking film of all time when adjusted for inflation.
By the late 1940s, she had become one of the screen’s top actresses.
But her off-screen role in a lawsuit against her employer, Warner Bros., may have been her most notable achievement in Hollywood. In 1943, de Havilland sued the studio after it attempted to extend her seven-year contract, which was expiring. Under the studio system, actors faced suspension without pay if they turned down roles, and the suspension time was added to their contracts. De Havilland’s eventual court victory helped shift the power from the big studios of that era to the mega-celebrities and powerful talent agencies of today. “Hollywood actors will be forever in Olivia’s debt,” de Havilland’s friend and frequent co-star Bette Davis wrote in her autobiography, “The Lonely Life.”De Havilland later recalled how rewarding the ruling was for her.”I was very proud of that decision, for it corrected a serious abuse of the contract system — forced extension of a contract beyond its legal term. Among those who benefited by the decision were the actors who fought in World War II and who, throughout that conflict, were on suspension,” the actress told the Screen Actors Guild in a 1994 interview. In recent years, Jared Leto credited the so-called de Havilland Law for helping his band, Thirty Seconds to Mars, in a contract dispute with its record label. About three-quarters of a century after that landmark ruling, de Havilland lost a lawsuit she brought against the makers of the 2017 FX Networks miniseries, “Feud: Bette and Joan.” The US Supreme Court declined to review the case after the centenarian failed to convince a California appellate court that the filmmakers had depicted her in a false light and should have gotten her permission to be portrayed in the drama.
More importantly for de Havilland, she gained freedom to pursue better roles in award-winning films such as “To Each His Own” (1946),”The Snake Pit” (1948) and “The Heiress” (1949).Her first Oscar win — for “To Each His Own” — also brought into the spotlight an often strained relationship with her famous younger sister, Joan Fontaine. At the 1947 ceremony, Fontaine tried to congratulate her sibling backstage, but de Havilland brushed her aside, reportedly telling her press agent, “I don’t know why she does that when she knows how I feel.” Fontaine, also an Oscar winner, died in December 2013, at age 96, fueling press speculation about whether the sisters had ended one of Hollywood’s most famous family feuds before her death.”I regret that I remember not one act of kindness from her all through my childhood,” Fontaine said of her sister in her memoir, “No Bed of Roses.” De Havilland rarely made any public remarks about her sibling. Asked about their relations in a 2006 interview with David Thomson, she replied, “How shall I put it? Well, let’s just say they stand still.” At the time of Fontaine’s death, she issued a statement that she was “shocked and saddened” by the news.