In 1943, Olivia de Havilland’s seven year contract with Warner Brothers was coming to an end, and Olivia had no intention of considering a renewal.Because she had refused roles assigned to her by Warners , she was suspended without pay and had her contract extended by the period it would take for another actress to film the role.
In a 2006 interview,Olivia said,
“I finally began to do interesting work like Melanie, but always on loan out to another studio. I was (Oscar) nominated for GONE WITH THE WIND (for Selznick), then HOLD BACK THE DAWN at Paramount.
So I realised that at Warners I was never going to have the work I wanted.”
At the tender age of 26, the young Olivia,backed by the Screen Actors Guild,decided to make a stand and took Warner Bros. to court.
It was a brave decision,because the big studios could be very unforgiving when employees dared to stand up to them.
A seven year contract didn’t guarantee work for seven years – the studio always had a yearly ( or 6 months) option to cancel a contract.
The judgement wasn’t finalised till 1944,and Olivia didn’t make a film between 1943 and 1946.
But the judgement was in Olivia’s favour. The judges said that the seven year contract could easily result in it being indefinitely extended. (The studios had even included holidays and weekends as periods which could be added onto a contract). To this day, the judgement is known as ‘the De Havilland Decision’,(which is the informal name for California Labor Code,Section 2855).
In the future ,contracts could not extend beyond seven calendar years. And of course, the decision benefited many other studio employees. For instance, actors who had served in World War II were expected to continue their seven years from the day they were discharged.
In Rudy Behlmer’s great book,INSIDE WARNER BROTHERS, Jack Warner said,
“…Want to sue Miss de Havilland for non-performance of services in the 26 weeks that she refused to work….
Selznick is also going to sue Joan Fontaine when her contract expires for non-performance of services along the same lines.”
After the decision, Jack Warner’s brother Harry,ever the business man,said,
“After thinking it over,believe you will have to find some way of discontinuing suspending people. If they don’t want work in one picture,make some other picture with them. But for goodness sake,make a picture. You don’t gain anything by suspending, and you just lose a picture with a big drawing star.
You must bear in mind that everyone is preaching liberty and freedom,and the actors are getting to believe it….when the war is over and all the actors and help have come back,you can suspend anyone you want – including me.”
Jack Warner reluctantly agreed and replied,
“Agree with you wholeheartedly about not suspending anyone,but all you have to do is let actors play parts they want to and you won’t be in business very long…..majority of times have found they use this as alibi to get more money or rewrite contract.”
After leaving Warner Bros.,Olivia’s first film in 1946,TO EACH HER OWN won her an Oscar,followed by a second one in 1949 for THE HEIRESS.
Olivia reached the grand age of 99 on the 1st July,2015. What a star!