Gone With The Wind star breaks her silence on feud with her sister as she turns 100


Celebrating her 100th birthday, indomitable actress Olivia de Havilland has finally broken her silence on Hollywood's most famous sibling rivalry.

In a rare interview with the Associated Press, the bright-eyed two-time Oscar winner and last living remnant of Hollywood's Golden Age has disclosed her true feelings about her late sister Joan Fontaine, revealing that she calls her Dragon Lady.

With her Oscar in 1950
With her Oscar in 1950 (AP)

She said the "legend of a feud" with her sister was first created by an article entitled Sister Act in Life Magazine following the 1942 Oscars, where both sisters were nominated for an Academy Award.

Joan, who was then the lesser-known sister, won for Suspicion while Olivia had been nominated for Hold Back The Dawn.

"A feud implies continuing hostile conduct between two parties. I cannot think of a single instance wherein I initiated hostile behaviour," she said.

"But I can think of many occasions where my reaction to deliberately inconsiderate behaviour was defensive," she added.

Joan died in 2013. Describing the 1942 Oscars in her 1978 memoir No Bed Of Roses, she painted a somewhat different picture.

"All the animus we'd felt toward each other as children, the hair-pullings, the savage wrestling matches, the time Olivia fractured my collarbone, all came rushing back in kaleidoscopic imagery," she wrote.

Joan Fontaine
Joan Fontaine (Anonymous/AP/Press Association Images)

"My paralysis was total. I felt Olivia would spring across the table and grab me by the hair. I felt age 4, being confronted by my older sister. Damn it, I'd incurred her wrath again!"

Olivia has mainly kept her silence on her version of events, but said the memories of her sister were "multi-faceted, varying from endearing to alienating".

"On my part, it was always loving, but sometimes estranged and, in the later years, severed," she said.

"Dragon Lady, as I eventually decided to call her, was a brilliant, multi-talented person, but with an astigmatism in her perception of people and events which often caused her to react in an unfair and even injurious way," she said.

Olivia de Havilland of Gone With The Wind turns 100
Olivia de Havilland of Gone With The Wind turns 100 (Kevork Djansezian/AP)

Though age-related macular degeneration has damaged her vision, the centenarian is still able to read black and white printed text clearly and answer written interview questions.

She climbs stairs regularly every day in her luxurious Paris residence, and linked the secret to her longevity to three Ls: "love, laughter, and learning."

She calls Paris "a marvellous development in my life".

Since moving here in 1953, "at the insistence" of her late husband, Frenchman Pierre Galante, she found no reason to return to the US. She has remained active with the American community here, centred around Paris' American Cathedral, which she said is made up of "fascinating and worthwhile people".

"By 1951, television had already made such inroads on the income garnered by motion picture companies that the Golden Era which had prevailed until then was beginning to disintegrate. And by 1953, it had come to an end. Hollywood was a dismal, tragic place," she said.

Olivia de Havilland starred in Gone With The Wind
Olivia de Havilland starred in Gone With The Wind (Reed Saxon/AP)

"(Sexism) was a fact of life I simply had to accept. Men felt threatened and mistrustful of women who had good ideas, and one had to employ immense tact when dealing with directors and producers," she said.

"As to remuneration for one's work, women were resigned to receiving less financial compensation than a man for their work," she said.

The steely actress famously gave her name to a landmark legal ruling - the de Havilland law - after she took Warner Bros to court in 1943 over a contract dispute and won, forever loosening the studios' grip on their actors and actresses.

Olivia with President George Bush in 2008
Olivia with President George Bush in 2008 (Gerald Herbert/AP)

"As soon as my victory was legally confirmed and I was free to choose the films that I made, Paramount presented me with the script of To Each His Own ... This was exactly the kind of challenge for which I fought that case," she said with pride. She went on to win her first Academy Award for this role, a further vindication of her legal battle.

Looking back, she highlighted one of the main drawbacks of her unusual longevity.

"All the artists I had known during the Golden Era (live) elsewhere," she said, "including the afterworld."