Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Madras links of an aircraft pioneer and an actress

Olivia de Havilland, the only surviving cast member of the classic "Gone With the Wind" turns 100 on the 1st of July this year. Olivia was a great actress, an ageless and  charismatic Anglo-Norman beauty whose appearance can still raise an eyebrow or two. But do you know that she has a Madras connection that goes back to the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Olivia and her cousin Sir Geoffrey de Havilland (1882-1965) the aircraft pioneer are both great-grandchildren of Major Charles de Havilland (1787-1844), whose older brother Colonel Thomas Fiott de Havilland (1775-1866) is the architect of St. Andrew's Church in Egmore and St. George's Cathedral of the Church of South India. Major Charles de Havilland is the father of Rev. Charles Richard de Havilland (1823-1901) whose older son Rev. Charles de Havilland (1854-1920) is father of Sir Geoffrey while Olivia and her sister Joan Fontaine are the daughters of Rev. Charles Richard's younger son Walter Augustus (1872-1968). While the India connection is not as intimate as in the case of the lead actress Vivien Leigh who was born and brought up in Darjeeling when the British held sway over this country, Olivia's connection with the architect - her great-great-uncle who has made a considerable contribution to the architectural heritage of Madras is definitely worthy of note. In the movie, Olivia also plays cousin to a character named India Wilkes, whose name writer Margaret Mitchell stumbled upon from God-knows-where.

Olivia has never been to Madras but Gone With the Wind was as much a hit here as it was  anywhere else in the world. The film released in mid-1944 at the Casino which showed only English movies back then and was soon running to packed houses.  Her younger sister Joan Fontaine who died aged 96 on December 15, 2013 was as much a star in Hollywood as Olivia and the first of the sisters to win an Academy Award (a Best Actress for Hitchcock's Suspicion in 1941). The two sisters were famous for the sibling rivalry they had more than anything else.


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