Project Description

Dame Olivia de Havilland

ACP Trustee 1968–70, ACP Parent  

As a Paris resident from the mid-1950s, world-renowned actress Olivia de Havilland was a cherished member of the American and AUP communities in the City of Light. She was the first female trustee of what was, at the time, the American College in Paris, sitting on the Board for several years in the late 1960s, around the same time that her son, Benjamin, attended ACP. 

Olivia de Havilland has always held a special place in the public imagination. She began her illustrious stage and film career at 18, when she played Hermia in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Hollywood Bowl. She would go on to star in 49 films. In 1935, she signed with Warner Brothers, where she starred in eight movies with the swashbuckler Errol Flynn, including Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood. She would go on to garner Academy Award nominations for her performances in Hold Back the Dawn and Gone with the Wind, the latter of which is often cited as the most popular film of all time. She would later win Best Actress Academy Awards for both To Each His Own and The Heiress. 

Olivia de Havilland’s film legacy goes beyond her acting career. She courageously fought Hollywood’s studio culture by taking Warner Brothers to court for financial abuses of her contract; the ensuing 1945 Supreme Court of California judgment created the landmark de Havilland rule limiting the length of studio contracts to a maximum of seven calendar years. For her numerous achievements, both professional and personal, she was awarded a special lifetime tribute from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2006 as well as the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush in 2008 and the Légion d’Honneur from French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010. 

Her time as an ACP trustee coincided with the widespread student protests of May 1968 in response to both the Vietnam War and student codes of conduct. The protests are today remembered for shepherding in a wave of social reforms and for normalizing women’s rights and LGBTQ+ acceptance in France. Olivia, who viewed herself as student liaison to the Board, empathized with the political ideas of students during that unprecedented and tumultuous time. She exhorted fellow Board members to take on some new and constructive ideas from the students, and, when her peers refused to do so, she resigned as an ACP trustee. 

Despite her resignation, Olivia was nonetheless known for welcoming AUP friends, students and trustees into her home for support and advice over the decades that followed, remaining the University’s unfailing champion. In recognition of her support, she received an honorary degree from the Board of Trustees in 1994 and the AUP Presidential Award for Distinguished Achievement in 2017. 

Olivia de Havilland died in July 2020 at the age of 104. She is survived by her daughter, Gisèle Galante, who lives in California. Following her death, AUP named its first-ever auditorium in the new Monttessuy Center for the Arts in her honor. The Olivia de Havilland Theatre now hosts student performances and film screenings, cementing Olivia’s permanent legacy as a deeply valued member of the AUP community.