When I saw the picture flash across the news screen, I presumed it was an obituary. Happily, it was a birthday announcement for Olivia de Havilland — Melanie to those who adore the film, Gone with the Wind. She’d turned 100th on July 1. Naturally, there were pictures of her in her famous roles, of which there were many; but her birthday picture showed a woman with a clear eye, a familiar half smile and dazzling skin. I’d written earlier about Hollywood women who have defied time, (Blog 7/19/16) and theirs was a story worth telling. Still, I hold a special place in my heart for Olivia who, in the far more sexist world of the 1940s and 50s, managed to stand on her own with grace and humor. That she’s lived to be 100 is something to celebrate, and so I take this occasion to tell a story about her which won’t be seen in any newspapers, but will reveal her mischievous nature.
By the time I saw Olivia on the stage in my home town, she was in her mid 60s, her staring career behind her. Still, this woman so many of us admired, commanded a full house the afternoon she appeared at our pubic auditorium. We were eager to hear about her romantic exploits, especially those with the heart breaker, Errol Flynn, with whom she starred in an early version of Robin Hood. Besides, Rudolph Valentino, I know of no other leading man, not even the delicious Sean Connery, whose presence could make a woman swoon like Errol.
I had a good view of the actress as she entered the hall to enthusiastic applause. She was wearing an emerald silk suit, diamonds in her ears to catch the light and on her lapel, the requisite diamond broach. She knew how to dress to make her skin seem luminescent. Everyone must have marveled at her appearance as I did because, during the question and answer period, someone in the audience asked the actress how she managed to maintain so beautiful a complexion.
Olivia gave the questioner a half smile. “Do you really want to know? Shall I tell you my secret?” The women filling the rows and rows of tiered seats before her broke into applause. Olivia waited for the hall to quiet down. “Well,” she began. She spoke softly, forcing everyone present to lean forward rather than miss a single word. “I make my own beauty preparation and here’s what I use.” She listed a few ingredients, nothing extraordinary. Every item could be purchased in a drugstore. No finely ground pearls or oils from the turtles of Galapagos were required. Still there were those among us who were scribbling down the list.
Olivia paused at one point and looked up at the ceiling, as if an idea might be lurking among the rafters. “There is one item … the most important…” She paused again and tapped her chin while the rest of us held our breaths. “Oh darn,” she exclaimed, pretending to be exasperated. “ I just can’t remember that one.”
The audience broke into laughter. Olivia was a fine actress and a fine role model, but she was a woman. Share her beauty secret? Of course not. And no one in attendance blamed her. Happy 100th birthday, Olivia.