×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Olivia De Havilland Remembers Being the First Female Cannes Jury President

Olivia de Havilland is used to being a pioneer. Long before becoming the first woman to preside over the Cannes Film Festival jury, she took on the Hollywood studios’ onerous contract system as a young actress, fighting what was practically a form of indentured servitude. Her successful 1943 lawsuit against Warner Bros. went all the way to the California Supreme Court and resulted in the famous De Havilland Law, which remains a legal landmark.

A few years later, her portrayal in “The Snake Pit” of a woman who suffers a mental breakdown shone a light on conditions in psychiatric institutions, helped spark reforms around the country and earned de Havilland one of her five Oscar nominations. Her first was for the role for which she’ll be forever remembered: as Melanie Wilkes in “Gone With the Wind.” De Havilland wound up winning two statuettes for best actress, once in 1947, for “To Each His Own,” and again in 1950, for “The Heiress.”

Her boundary-breaking stint as head of the jury in Cannes, in 1965, was a daunting but enjoyable experience. Fellow panelists included actor Rex Harrison and French filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet; the Palme d’Or went to Richard Lester’s comedy “The Knack … and How to Get It.”

“I was intimidated by my role as the first female president of the Cannes Film Festival jury,” de Havilland, who is 101, tells Variety. “However, I must say that, as the only female on the jury that year, I did enjoy presiding over a committee entirely composed of men.”

That won’t hold true for incoming jury president Cate Blanchett, who will be one of five women on this year’s nine-person panel. But the fact that Blanchett is just the 10th woman to follow in de Havilland’s footsteps, after more than half a century, isn’t a happy one. “I am more than surprised,” de Havilland says. “I am dismayed.”

“I did enjoy presiding over a committee entirely composed of Men.”
Olivia de havilland

Still, she describes herself as “encouraged” that women in show business have banded together to fight abuse and harassment and that the industry is waking up to issues of workplace inequality, such as the gender pay gap. “It’s about time!” de Havilland declares.

And she continues to stand up for herself, filing a lawsuit against FX Networks for what she alleges is a false and damaging portrayal of her in the TV series “Feud: Bette and Joan.” In the show, de Havilland (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) calls her sister — actress Joan Fontaine, with whom she did carry on a bitter rivalry — a “bitch,” which de Havilland says never happened and insists she would never do. An appeals court tossed out the lawsuit in March.

That was a disappointment for de Havilland, who lives in Paris. But this long-lived icon of Hollywood’s Golden Age can find comfort in knowing that she’s not done setting precedents. Last June, she became the oldest woman ever to receive the British title of “dame,” an honor bestowed on her by Queen Elizabeth II. It was “the most gratifying of birthday presents,” de Havilland said then, shortly before turning 101.

“It’s about time!” said everyone else.

More Film

  • Oscars Placeholder

    Make-Up and Hair Stylist Guild Applauds Academy's Stance on Airing Every Oscar Winner

    Rowdy boos were followed by triumphant cheers at the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards on Saturday in Los Angeles, as the Hollywood union touched on a week of controversy over a reversed decision to hand out four Oscars during the show’s commercial breaks. Hair and makeup was one of the four categories that would [...]

  • Marvelous Mrs Maisel Vice

    'Vice,' 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Lead Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Winners

    Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” starring Oscar nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell, won two awards at the sixth annual Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Saturday night. The film won for best period and/or character makeup as well as special makeup effects. “Mary Queen of Scots” received the prize for period [...]

  • Bette Midler

    Bette Midler to Perform on the Oscars (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” at the Oscar ceremonies on Feb. 24, Variety has learned. Midler, a longtime friend of composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman, will sing the song originally performed by Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns.” The song, by Shaiman and his lyricist partner Scott Wittman, is one of five [...]

  • Olmo Teodoro Cuaron, Alfonso Cuaron and

    Alfonso Cuarón Tells Why His Scoreless 'Roma' Prompted an 'Inspired' Companion Album

    Back around the ‘90s, “music inspired by the film” albums got a bad name, as buyers tired of collections full of random recordings that clearly were inspired by nothing but the desire to use movie branding to launch a hit song. But Alfonso Cuarón, the director of “Roma,” is determined to find some artistic validity [...]

  • Berlin Film Festival 2019 Award Winners

    Berlin Film Festival 2019: Nadav Lapid's 'Synonyms' Wins Golden Bear

    Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s “Synonyms,” about a young Israeli man in Paris who has turned his back on his native country, won the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale on Saturday. The Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize went to François Ozon’s French drama “By the Grace of God,” a fact-based account of the Catholic Church [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel,' 'Lego Movie 2' to Lead President's Day Weekend

    “Alita: Battle Angel” is holding a slim lead ahead of “Lego Movie 2’s” second frame with an estimated four-day take of $29.1 million from 3,790 North American locations. “Lego Movie 2: The Second Part,” meanwhile, is heading for about $25 million for a domestic tally of around $66 million. The two films lead the pack [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content