One of the 20th century’s great Hollywood beauties, Dame Olivia de Havilland DBE, best known as Melanie in Gone With The Wind, celebrated her 102nd Birthday last month (July). Longevity clearly runs in her family since even her younger sister, actress Joan Fontaine, lived to the age of 96. However, Olivia’s exquisite bone structure, heart-shaped face and doe eyes ensured that not only was she stunning when young, but relatively recent photographs – since she still appears in public and even gives occasional interviews – show that she remains an elegant and lovely-looking woman. What’s more, the double-Oscar winner doesn’t show any of the usual signs of plastic surgery so beloved in Hollywood, perhaps because she has lived in Paris for over 60 years.
Hunting down information on her beauty philosophy and practices revealed relatively few secrets, but here are a few:
* In 1939, the Chicago Tribune revealed that, before putting on make-up she sponged warm milk over her décolletage. The combination of lactic acid and nourishing milk proteins no doubt helped keep the skin smooth, and was also said to be an excellent foundation for makeup.
* For a 1944 interview with Photoplay Magazine, she said her pet beauty secret was that: “False eyelashes bring out eyes to their fullest”.
* By 1953 she was telling the Herald TV Weekly that her top beauty secret was, “learning to relax”, explaining that nervous tension was a prime thief of good looks. “When I am quite fatigued I find a cup of tea and a warm bath refreshing. At night I’ve learned to drop right off to sleep by releasing the tension in my shoulders. With practice I can let go so that I feel it all the way through to my chest.”
She added, “I think appearance is very important, but there have been famous women in history who were not in the least beautiful but who created this impression through personal magnetism. You must learn how to make something of yourself. The things you are wearing do not have to be expensive, but they should be chosen to look well together and to offset you.”
As for favourite beauty products, one of her anti-ageing secrets turned out to be Frownies, which she ordered and had sent to her at hotels all over the world (pictured is one of her letters to the company, who is still trading). She also believed in the importance of good posture.
Talking to Vanity Fair relatively recently, she commented, “I would prefer to live forever in perfect health. But, if I must at some time leave this life, I would like to do so ensconced on a chaise longue, perfumed, wearing a velvet robe and pearl earrings, with a flute of champagne beside me and having just discovered the answer to the last problem in a British cryptic crossword.”
She also once revealed that she attributes her strikingly healthy longevity to “the three L’s — love, laughter, and light,” that she does the Times crossword puzzle daily, and remains determinedly positive. But she revised her ambition of living to 102; she told her French doctor she now plans to live to 110…
Happy Birthday, Olivia!