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Actress Olivia de Havilland returns to Hollywood

Written by: Staff

LOS ANGELES, June 17 (Reuters) Just a couple of weeks before turning 90, actress Olivia de Havilland has returned to bask in Hollywood glory.

And her latest close-up -- at a tribute to her work by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Thursday night -- was a roaring success. She had an audience of film industry movers and shakers leaping to their feet to applaud the screen legend and her tales of a long-lost Hollywood.

De Havilland, a luminous beauty who won hearts as Melanie in ''Gone with the Wind'' and two Oscars for tragic turns in ''To Each His Own'' and ''The Heiress,'' made her entrance walking briskly down the aisle of the Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

The actress, born to British parents in Tokyo on July one, 1916, and raised in California along with her sister, actress Joan Fontaine, looked elegant in a chic cream-colored silk suit, matching pumps and three strands of plump pearls. Her clear brown eyes and radiant skin belied her age.

On stage she sat through a series of clips from her greatest movies and then discussed a life that included on-screen pairings with the likes of Errol Flynn, Montgomery Clift, Richard Burton, Charles Boyer and Leslie Howard.

Recalling her start in show business, de Havilland said she had been planning to attend the Mills College for women in Oakland, California, when she was cast in 1935's ''A Midsummer Night's Dream,'' directed by Max Reinhardt.

REMEMBERING ERROL FLYNN Signed by Warner Bros in 1935 to a seven-year contract, the raven-haired actress went on to star opposite Flynn in ''Captain Blood.'' She was 18, he was 26; the pair made eight films in the next seven years, including ''The Adventures of Robin Hood'' and their last picture together, Raoul Walsh's 1941 drama about George Custer ''They Died With Their Boots On.'' Of that film, she said, ''There was a real grief and sorrow and loss when we made that. I felt the same way the next day and the day after that. And many, many years later I realised this would be the last picture I would make with Errol Flynn.'' But as to whether their movie romance bloomed off-screen, the lady with now snow-white hair coiffed in an elegant French twist, won't say.

''I'd seen 'Robin Hood' in Paris in 1959 and wrote Errol a letter, telling him how wonderful I thought it was. But I didn't send it and very much wish I had.'' She said the last time she saw the Tasmanian-born swashbuckler was at a gala later that year, where she felt someone kiss her on the back of her neck, but she didn't recognise him at first.

''He said, 'It's Errol.' 'Errol who?' I asked. It was his eyes.

They used to be merry, but now they were troubled. Those eyes had changed. There was something dead about him.'' With that, de Havilland's voice, still resonant and instantly recognisable, choked a bit as she said, ''He died two weeks later.'' De Havilland chafed at Hollywood's treatment of performers under contract. The actress sued Warner Bros. in the 1940s after being suspended for refusing typecast roles. She won the suit and the decision giving greater creative freedom to performers became know as ''De Havilland's Law.'' The twice-divorced actress was joined at the tribute by her daughter, Giselle. A son, Benjamin, died in the early 1990s.

De Havilland has been retired from acting since appearing in a TV movie, ''The Woman He Loved,'' in 1988. Her last film role was in 1979's ''The Fifth Musketeer.'' Having lived in Paris for the past half-century, the actress admitted to not watching her own movies lately but said she likes to have dinner in bed and do a crossword puzzle.

She also works on needlepoint, something she picked up while co-starring with Clift in the William Wyler-directed film from 1949, ''The Heiress.'' Of that brooding star she recalls, ''Clift was a very fine actor and intensely interested in his work, but he had a foolish friend, a coach, that was always on the set.'' Asked about her favorite role, she replied: ''I felt 'Gone with the Wind' would last five years, and it's lasted over 50, and into a new millennium. There is a special place in my heart for that film and Melanie. She was a remarkable character -- a loving person, and because of that she was a happy person. And Scarlett, of course, was not.'' REUTERS SRS VC0925

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