Friday marked Olivia de Havilland’s 100th birthday. How wonderful it is to have this queen of the silver screen still with us today. To celebrate, I’ve joined the Olivia de Havilland Centenary Blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.
One of my absolute favorite books is Jane Eyre so naturally I decided to choose a film in which Ms. de Havilland portrays its author, Charlotte Brontë. In 1946 she starred in Devotion along with Ida Lupino as Emily Brontë.
The tale of the Brontës is a tragic one so I knew going in this would be a tearjerker. The film tells the story of Charlotte, Emily, Anne (Nancy Coleman) and their brother Branwell (Arthur Kennedy). All three sisters are devoted to their brother – a struggling artist with a drinking problem and a bit of a selfish streak – and want to send him to London to further his career. At the same time Charlotte and Emily are struggling with their novels and find themselves both drawn to the new curate (played by Paul Henreid). A love triangle forms causing a rift between the two sisters that can only be mended by tragedy.
Devotion is a true tearjerker with strong performances by both de Havilland and Lupino. While entertaining as a film it’s not exactly true to life. As often occurred with biopics in the Golden Age of Cinema there was a lot of artistic license taken. Yes, Branwell was an alcoholic artist, Charlotte did marry the curate, Arthur, and the family did endure much tragedy but there is no evidence of a love triangle between the two sisters and Arthur.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Devotion happened behind the scenes. Filmed in 1943 it wasn’t released until 1946 due to de Havilland’s lawsuit against Warner Brothers. Like Bette Davis before her de Havilland did not appreciate it when the studio decided to give her inferior roles just because she was under contract. She would refuse scripts and find herself on suspension just like Davis. When her 7 year contract ended in 1943 Warner brothers decided to add to it six extra months due to her previous suspensions. She was not about to let this fly and sued the studio (just as Davis unsuccessfully had in the decade prior). She ultimately prevailed and the De Havilland Law went into effect preventing a California employer from forcing an employee to work any supplementary amount of service beyond the seven calendar years of their contract.
Olivia de Havilland not only made a mark on the big screen but in the California law books as well. As a citizen of the Golden State I’m certainly grateful for her contribution. She’s an incredible person who I’m glad is still around today.