Olivia De Havilland
Los Gatos High Class of 1934
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Memories of Olivia De Havilland
De Havilland entered Saratoga Grammar School in 1922 and did well in her studies. She enjoyed reading, writing poetry, drawing, and spelling, and once represented her grammar school in a county spelling bee, coming in second place. In 1923, Lillian had a new Tudor style house built at 231 La Paloma Avenue (now 20250), where the family resided until the early 1930s. In April 1925, after her divorce was finalized, Lillian married George Milan Fontaine, a department store manager for O. A. Hale & Co. in San Jose. Fontaine was a good provider and respectable businessman, but his strict parenting style generated animosity and later rebellion in his stepdaughters. De Havilland continued her education at Los Gatos High School in nearby Los Gatos. There she excelled in oratory and field hockey and participated in school plays and the school drama club, eventually becoming the club's secretary. She also studied typing and shorthand. With plans to become a schoolteacher specializing in English and speech, she also attended Notre Dame Convent in Belmont. In 1933, de Havilland made her debut in amateur theatre in the lead role in Alice in Wonderland, a production of the Saratoga Community Players based on the work of Lewis Carroll. She would later remember: "For the first time I had the magic experience of feeling possessed by the character I was playing. I really felt I was Alice and that when I moved across the stage, I was actually moving in Alice's enchanted wonderland. And so for the first time I felt not only pleasure in acting but love for acting as well." She also appeared in several school plays, including The Merchant of Venice and Hansel and Gretal. Her passion for drama eventually led to a confrontation with her stepfather, who forbade her from participating in further extracurricutar activities. When he learned that she won the lead role of Elizabeth Bennet in a school fund-raising production of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, he gave her an ultimatum to either stay home or not return home. Not wanting to let her school and classmates down, she left home forever, moving in with a family friend, Eva Leigh Harriman.
After graduating high school in 1934, de Havilland was offered a scholarship to Mills College to pursue her chosen career as an English teacher. She was also offered the role of Puck in the Saratoga Community Theater production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. That summer, Austrian director Max Reinhardt came to California for a major new production of the same play to premiere at the Hollywood Bowl. After one of Reinhardt's assistants saw her perform in the Saratoga production, he offered her the second understudy position for the role of Hermia. One week before the premiere, the understudy Jean Rouverol left to take a part in a film, and the lead actress Gloria Stuart became ill, leaving eighteen-year-old Olivia de Havilland to play Hermia. Reinhardt was pleased with her performance and offered her the part in the four-week autumn tour that followed. When Mills College agreed to leave their scholarship open to the end of the year, de Havilland accepted the director's offer. During that tour, Reinhardt received word that he would direct the Warner Bros. film version of his stage production, and he offered her the film role of Hermia. With her mind still set on becoming a teacher, de Havilland initially wavered, but eventually Reinhardt and executive producer Henry Blanke were able to persuade her to sign a five-year contract with Warner Bros. on November 12, 1934
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