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If you like Olivia de Havilland's story, you might also like:
Julie Andrews,
Sally Field,
Whoopi Goldberg,
Ron Howard,
Jeremy Irons,
James Earl Jones,
Sidney Poitier,
Hilary Swank and
Kiri Te Kanawa

Olivia de Havilland can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Olivia de Havilland's recommended reading: Edmund Dulac's Picture Book

Related Links:
Saratoga News
Hollywood Reporter
Screen Actors Guild

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Olivia de Havilland
 
Olivia de Havilland
Profile of Olivia de Havilland Biography of Olivia de Havilland Interview with Olivia de Havilland Olivia de Havilland Photo Gallery

Olivia de Havilland Interview (page: 7 / 9)

Legendary Leading Lady

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  Olivia de Havilland

What books did you like to read when you were growing up in Saratoga?


Olivia de Havilland: The first book that made an impression on me when I was very young was sent by my Aunt Ethel, my mother's sister from England. It was published in 1919 for the benefit of the Red Cross at the First World War, and it was called Edmund Dulac's Picture Book. It was a wonder, full of the most beautiful illustrations by Edmund Dulac and also Arthur Rackham who was one of the other celebrated illustrators of the day. It was a book of fairy stories. "The Princess and the Pea" was in it. I can remember that, and "Arabian Nights," that was in it, an exquisite book, and I have it to this day. Then, of course, with nature all around us, I was very much interested in Thornton Burgess's books. I loved those books. A Child's Garden of Verses, and then later on, Captain Marryat's Children of the New Forest, that made an impression on me, and The Three Musketeers. I loved The Three Musketeers.



Peggy Baker, my friend from Lundblad's Lodge, her mother had decided to buy a house in Saratoga, right near ours, right near, and so she and I continued to be great friends, and we would act out plays and that kind of thing. We would act, as plays, books we had read, and she said, "Well, all right. Let's play Three Musketeers," and I said, "Yes. Let's play Three Musketeers," and we decided who we were going to be. I think I was Athos, and she was, as she called it, she said, "I'll be Darting-on," and I went home to my mother. I said, "Well, we are going to play Three Musketeers, and I am Athos, and Peggy is Darting-on," and my mother said, "You don't pronounce it that way. It is D'Artagnan." So I said to Peggy, "Well, you don't pronounce it Darting-on." She said, "You don't pronounce it Darting-on? "No. You pronounce it D'Artagnan," and so she went home to her mother. Her mother was very offended with my mother. They were great friends, played bridge together all the time, but there was a rather cold moment there for a week or so over the pronunciation of D'Artagnan. Of course, we settled for "Darting-on."


Were you a serious student? Did you take school seriously?

Olivia de Havilland: Take school seriously? Adored school! My mother was remarkable. While we were staying at Lundblad's Lodge, she learned that a neighbor, Mrs. Hanchett was her name, had decided to run a kind of preschool, where she would teach us how to spell, how to count, and, of course, my mother was enthralled by this, and off my sister and I went. We learned how to count with an abacus. I can remember that very well, though I did learn how to count in Japanese, as you know. Then when I went to school, I was very heroic. The children did make a great deal of noise. The school yard was right next to Lundblad's, and my mother had always spoken of "those wild Indians." and I thought, "Oh, this first morning!" when I had to go across the street to school with the wild Indians. My mother took my photograph -- I've still got it -- as I heroically crossed the street to mingle with the wild Indians. I came home for lunch triumphantly. I had survived the wild Indians.


In any case, with all this training that I got at Mrs. Hanchett's nursery school, I did very well in my studies, and it was kind of boring. I took a book and read. Now this broke all the rules. There were two classes. Miss Richards was her name, a very nice woman. Two classes in one school room, first and second grades, and of course, while she was teaching the second grade, I had nothing to do. It was awfully hard. The talk was that I should maybe skip a grade and go into the second grade, but I can remember seeing -- I think it was Walton Wickett from Lundblad's Lodge -- ended up by being a professor of engineering. I think the story is he designed the bomb bay door for the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb. Well, anyway, Walton was a crackerjack at math, and he would get up with a chalk and the blackboard and figure things out, and I thought, "Oh, I will never be able to do that," and that's why I never skipped into the second grade. I just stayed there in first grade, comfortably, but bored. And from then on, I loved all my studies.


We had wonderful teachers. All the classrooms, as I recall it, had two classes. The third and fourth, I know were together. I am not sure about fifth and sixth, but I think it is possible. The seventh, no, that was a single class, Miss Ashbury. And Bertha Seely, the principal, taught the eighth grade. I remember that very well indeed. They were all wonderful teachers, I loved every one of them, but the most marvelous experience, I think, was Mrs. Reed, fifth grade and sixth.


Mrs. Reed emphasized the arts in her teaching of these youngsters, and she encouraged us to write poetry and to draw. So in our time off, two or three of us would go together and go off to some pretty place and draw, and we would write poems and read them to each other. She was really remarkable. I loved spelling. I got very, very good in spelling, and I was so proud to have been chosen by the school to represent it at the county spelling bee where I was competing with all of these crackerjack students from schools all over the valley, including Bellarmine, I believe, the Roman Catholic private school in San José. Well, that boy, that wicked boy, he beat me out. I knew his name yesterday, but I am blocking it today.


Olivia de Havilland Interview Photo
I came in second and went back to Saratoga, and they had a special assembly, so that I could tell the entire student body about my thrilling experience at the county spelling bee where I represented Saratoga Grammar School and came in second. I wish I had come in first!

We understand you started acting when you were still in Saratoga. Can you tell us how you first became involved in the theater?

Olivia de Havilland: It was one of the great features of Saratoga, when we moved there, that there were only 800 people. Our telephone number was number seven. Nonetheless, it attracted interesting people from all over the world. There was Nunke McGlew who was with Standard Oil. He was British, from out in Hong Kong, and decided to settle there in Saratoga. The Goodrich family was a very old olive-growing family, and they had a beautiful estate called Hayfield House, 14 acres oddly enough, right near where my mother built her house. They were a fascinating family, and Mr. Goodrich, Chauncey Goodrich, was a lawyer in San Francisco. This was true of quite a few families. The fathers would commute to San Francisco, stock brokers, and other professions, as well as people who had come from other parts of the country to settle there in retirement. So you had a rather sophisticated, experienced, traveled, cultivated community, interested naturally in the arts.


One of the townspeople who was quite renowned was Dorothea Johnston -- not Vivian Abbot, and she was remarkable, but I won't deal with her at the moment. Dorothea Johnston, she had studied drama in England and had done a remarkable thing there. She had studied -- in one of the great British libraries, museums -- American Indians, and Dorothea learned some Indian songs and how to beat a tom-tom, and she acquired an Indian drum. She had a costume made, an Indian costume and a headdress with feathers, and she gave concerts. You could say, "Yes, she has Indian blood; yes, yes, she does. She looks like an Indian chief, rather, like the one that's on the nickel somewhat," but she was the rage of London. All the hostesses wanted her to come and entertain after dinner, and there's, "Oh, the fingers of the sun around the mountain, woo, woo, woo." It was a grand performance. We loved it. We children adored having Dorothea give a concert in the village, and then, of course, we would sneak around and say "Oh, the fingers of the" -- well, not very nice of us, but we did.



Dorothea was even presented to the Queen in London. That's how celebrated she was. When she came back from her English adventures in London and England, she made friends with the drama department, the professors of the drama department at Stanford University. One of them, Frederick Stover, had graduated from Yale Drama School, and the two of them decided that they would like to put on some amateur performances in the village of Saratoga. Of course, the village of Saratoga was very excited about that, and all these charming people were eager to come and see Dorothea and Frederick Stover's first play. The play they chose was Alice in Wonderland. Freddy designed the sets, and he played the Griffin. He called on some of his students at Stanford to play some of the parts, and we were a mélange of Stanford students and local children. I was cast as Alice, and Willys Peck, very tiny, he was the son of the owner of the Saratoga News. Willand B. Peck was his name. Willys played the Duck, and Willys is my friend to this day, the Duck. Anyway, we presented it at the Saratoga Foothill Club.


The Foothill Club was designed by Julia Morgan, the great woman architect of the day who designed Hearst Castle. That's the way Saratoga did things. Only the best for Saratoga! Well, the production was a local success, and its renown spread.


We were invited to give the same performance at the Palo Alto Community Theater, which was very celebrated. We did, and to that performance came George C. Warren, the critic of the San Francisco Chronicle. And the best review I have ever received -- at the age of 16 -- was from George C. Warren of the San Francisco Chronicle, reviewing Alice in Wonderland. We went on and performed at the Women's City Club in San Francisco, San José State University. I had to be called out of the classroom. By now, of course, I was in high school, Los Gatos Union High School. Saratoga was too small to have a high school, and so the Saratoga students would take the Red Peninsula Car over to Los Gatos, to another beautiful, beautiful school with wonderful teachers. And that's the story of Alice in Wonderland.


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This page last revised on May 05, 2008 13:50 EDT