Olivia de Havilland, the doe-eyed actress beloved to millions as the sainted Melanie Wilkes of Gone With the Wind, but also a two-time Oscar winner and an off-screen fighter who challenged and unchained Hollywood's contract system, died Sunday at her home in Paris. She was 104, the AP reports. Havilland is said to have died peacefully of natural causes. De Havilland was among the last of the top screen performers from the studio era, and the last surviving lead from Gone With the Wind, an irony, she once noted, since the fragile, self-sacrificing Wilkes was the only major character to die in the film. The 1939 epic, which won 10 Oscars, is often ranked as Hollywood’s box office champion (adjusting for inflation), although it is now widely condemned for its glorified portrait of slavery and antebellum life.
During a career that spanned six decades, de Havilland was Errol Flynn's co-star in a series of dramas, Westerns, and period pieces. But she also was a prototype for an actress too beautiful for her own good, typecast in sweet and romantic roles while desiring greater challenges. Her frustration finally led her to sue Warner Bros. in 1943 when the studio tried to keep her under contract after it had expired, claiming she owed six more months because she had been suspended for refusing roles—and she prevailed in court. The decision is still unofficially called the "De Havilland law." She later won Oscars for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949). Leading critic James Agee once confessed he was "vulnerable to Olivia de Havilland in every part of my being except the ulnar nerve."
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