|Olivia de Havilland in 2018. She was already 102. Wow!|
I don't come from the generation that was her intended audience. Far from it, Gone With The Wind was already forty years old by the time I saw it. When watching it for the first time, I was captivated by the great Hollywood beauty of Vivien Leigh, who was dead before I was even born. Vivien seized the screen in just about every role I ever saw her play, and I thought she was a greater beauty in her prime than Elizabeth Taylor, whom my parents spoke of in reverential tones when discussing film stars. I didn't originally think that Olivia de Havilland was pretty, but I realized once I'd grown older and understood things better, that this was intentional because the character of Melanie Wilkes is a bit of a milquetoast with none of the strength of the character, Scarlett O'Hara.
But even forty years after Gone With the Wind was released, the world was still a much slower place. I may work on a computer now, and I don't consider myself "old" by any means. However, I still remember having to turn a dial to change a television set and feeling fortunate that my television set could get channels 12 and 13, which showed a lot of Godzilla movies that I liked. The world was still slow enough that old stars from the forties were still household names, and entertainment didn't come at you from streaming sources that are so plentiful it's like taking a sip of water from a firehose.
I am kind of awed not only by the quality of de Havilland's life, but by the length and span of it. My mother was still a child when Olivia de Havilland was being filmed as Melanie Wilkes, and Ms. de Havilland outlived my mother by four years (and my mom was an old person when she died)! Her co-star Vivien Leigh, died in 1967. Ms. de Havilland outlived the famous Scarlett actress by more than five decades. I think that's rather incredible, and a tribute to good genetics, healthcare, and probably some luck to boot. In fact, she seemed so out of place in my mind when I realized that Olivia de Havilland was still alive (I think Liz told me about it a few years ago in a comment on my blog). Olivia was still alive in a world that had so completely transformed, seeing not only the rise of fascism in America (from Paris), but a worldwide pandemic, and a thousand other things. If anything, knowing this fact about this Hollywood legend was like contemplating an anachronism: a person who could have told you (until this weekend) of personal conversations with the likes of Judy Garland, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, and the list goes on and on.
Anyway, it's a fascinating thing to think on, this connectivity of the past to the present. I can't help that with her passing, there's a kind of Golden Age "Instagram" that has also left the world. A repository, if you will, of vignettes...candid moments...and personal revelations of other artists who left their work for us to appreciate, and who (in time) will be all but forgotten save for the lasting pieces of entertainment that we can watch, and hence appreciate the characters they portrayed.