Like: Olivia De Havilland (1938)

“It’s Not Just Who But When…”

This statement was made by an acquaintance of mine some years ago when the question was prompted, “Who would you like to meet more than anyone else?” And from that very moment I fully and completely realized how important timing is when it comes to the reality of a person. Often the ideal timing is that ideal cusp where the fame is new and surprising to the person themselves. Where they are overcome with both the humility of that responsibility and possibly even embarrassed by it. It is certainly when they are most thankful. And certainly ever since that initial conversation I’ve always reiterated when it comes to any such list, “It’s not just who but when…”

Now as a wrinkle, this ongoing series of portraits will only specifically deal with the women of the last 75 years of so who I consider to be the Most Beautiful and Alluring in the world. I’m well aware that the internet can quickly descend into  a game OMG SHE’S HOT, LET’S OGLE HER! (though ogle is probably not used that often) and we find ourselves skirting into objectifying and ultimately even exploitative territory. Please know that that is anything but the goal here. The goal is reflect on moments in time, go over some film and television history, talk about the nature of image, and engage the subject of sexuality in media forms. And yes, most of it will be in adoring circumstances so don’t expect much of sterile criticism, but that is definitely the world of thought it will be coming from.

This ongoing series will attempt to go chronologically.

After Rita Hayworth, I have a feeling that going with Olivia De Havilland as my second choice in this series might illicit a bit of a “… who?”  Which is understandable. Her name has not really passed through the generational gauntlet and into posterity. And let’s be honest, there are a litany of actors and actresses whose prominent careers have slipped through the cracks of time. But I’m also willing to bet there’s a portion of population reading this that absolutely recognizes why I put her in this series.

That’s because she’s Maid Marian.

Oh yes there have been many classic Marians in the annals of Robin Hood tales. But Olivia is the definitive version of the character… if only because I always feel weird insisting that my definitive version of the character might be an animated fox from the Disney version of my youth (it is still my favorite Disney movie bar none).  But enough about foxes, Olivia De Havilland is Maid Marian if we happen to be going with people form.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938) also happens to hold up to the modern viewer remarkably well. Not only did the film usher in a lot of the popular mythology that has come to define the character, but it worked so well that many of the films devices have gone on to be used time and time again. Key to this success is the fact that Errol Flynn’s dashing and charismatic nature translates to any generation. And the look even works too: the film use the stage-like classic distance of late 30’s cinematography, but luckily this distance also highlights the amazing stunt work and massive scale of the production. In the age of CGI we often forget what looking at 1,000 people on screen REALLY feels like, and it is something genuine and bold. The story even moves at a surprisingly crisp pace. My dad use to plop me down in front of this movie as a kid and I loved it despite growing up in the age of Voltron. Consequently to these viewings, I would try to perfom out-of-my-ability-Errol-like-jumps off my swingset in the backyard and thankfully there was no lasting damage. The point is the movie was and is absolutely charming… and Olivia’s allure and grace was a central part to making the film work.

The Cheesy old timey Trailer actually highlights a lot of the aspects I just described, so let’s take a look:

This little behind the scenes (taking from an Errol Flynn documentary) shows off a bit more of his charm and a lot of her graceful nature:

Olivia De Havilland was really a great match for Errol because she was his straight man of sorts; the old adage about straight men being, “they make it okay for everyone to like the off-color guy.”  Olivia played that role beautiful. His devilish advances and cocksuredness play right along with warm but rebuffing quality; call it dignified interest. So often this man/woman dynamic goes in the screwball direction where the charm and smarm just bounces right off the lady counter-part, but Olivia simply absorbs it. If acting is reacting then no actress could play it more cool than her. Olivia would go on to have a rather expansive career, even nabbing a supporting role in GONE WITH THE WIND a year later (she was one of the cousins I believe). It would last too, as she even showed up in some of the silly disaster movies of the 70s like AIRPORT 77 and THE SWARM. I’m not sure why that makes me happy, but it does. She always seemed like she was having fun in them.

So I always think kindly of Olivia. Maybe it was simply the way she spoke, or her magnificent grace, or maybe just that she was beautiful, charming, and seemed like good fun. She was great.

She was Maid Marian.

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