Sunday, July 26, 2020

Rosemary de Havilland (1904-2005)

Hollywood's famous feuding acting sisters, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 6, 2005

By marrying Walter de Havilland, Rosemary Connor joined a family whose disharmony was striking even by Hollywood standards. Her stepdaughters were the glamorous thespians Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, sisters whose antipathy for each other was legend; as well, both were estranged from their father.
The newest addition to the feuding clan would not be immune from the discord. At their wedding in 1960, the groom was 87, the bride a youthful 55. The wedding ceremony attracted little press attention, unlike his previous two marriages.
Walter Augustus de Havilland, was a handsome British eccentric whose first proposal for marriage was captured in a memorable Washington Post headline: Flips Coin; Wins Her. Tired of her suitor's ardent pursuit, Lilian Augusta Ruse playfully agreed to a coin toss to settle the matter. Miss Rusé -- she disliked the literal meaning of the family name and so placed an accent aigu on the final letter, a ruse of her own -- soon became the first Mrs. de Havilland.
The couple settled in Tokyo, where he worked as a patent attorney. She bore him two daughters -- Olivia Mary, on July 1, 1916, and Joan de Beauvoir, on Oct. 22, 1917. The marriage ended soon after when she discovered her husband's affair with one of the maids. She raised her daughters in California, where they would not see their father for more than a decade.
In Tokyo, Mr. de Havilland found himself shunned by the European community for living with Yuki Matsu-Kura, whom he married in 1927.
The sibling rivalry between the sisters was made all the more acute by their success in Hollywood. When Joan Fontaine won the Academy Award for best actress against four rivals, including her sister, she neglected to praise her sister from the podium or in private. While Miss de Havilland would soon enough win two Oscars of her own, the breach was irreparable.
Mr. de Havilland and his Japanese bride moved to the United States in 1941, a few months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. When she was ordered to be interned, he arranged for a comfortable life for themselves at a Colorado hotel. After the war, they moved to Victoria, B.C., where Yuki died in 1958.
Two years later, he married for the third and final time. Mary Eliza Connor was born in Yorkshire, later taking for herself the name Rosemary. She was a nurse in England and Canada and met Mr. de Havilland in British Columbia. 
All the while, her husband's relationship with his daughters occasioned headlines, not all of them complimentary. He once went to Hollywood to seek money. Later, he enjoyed a rapprochement of sorts with Olivia, who indulged a newspaper photographer by greeting him with a hug at Union Station in Los Angeles in 1952. 
After Walter died in North Vancouver in 1968, his first wife and their two daughters journeyed to the English Channel island of Guernsey, the de Havilland family's ancestral home. "Our mission then was to scatter my father's ashes into the sea at dusk," Joan Fontaine wrote in No Bed of Roses , her 1978 autobiography. "But we managed to smuggle only two-thirds of Pater into St. Peter Port. In Canada, his third wife, Rose Mary (sic), had been adamant: The other third should nurture flowers in the soil near Vancouver where he had lived with her so happily, dying there at the age of 96. I remonstrated with her, suggesting Father was not a birthday cake to be parcelled out in such a manner. Nevertheless, she divided his remains meticulously into three packages, one for each daughter, the third for herself and British Columbia."
Even the passing of a late-in-life stepmother was not without its embarrassments. A paid death notice in the Vancouver Sun declared Olivia de Havilland to have predeceased her stepmother; in fact, the last living star of Gone With the Wind resides in Paris. By coincidence, she was the subject of the Proust Questionnaire on the final page of the March edition of Vanity Fair magazine. Asked how she would like to die, she responds: "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."
At Rosemary de Havilland's passing, eight weeks before her 101st birthday, she was a resident of Evergreen House, a 292-bed facility for long-term patients in North Vancouver. "Rosemary was interested in the psychics," her paid death notice states, "and was famous for her paintings that were generated through her psychic visions."
Rosemary de Havilland was born on April 23, 1904, in Ellerby in Yorkshire, England. She died on Feb. 27, 2005, in North Vancouver, B.C. She was 100.


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Barbara Nimmo said...

I'm truly touched by this heartfelt blog post about Rosemary de Havilland, a remarkable individual who lived through so many significant moments in history. It's remarkable to read about her life and the incredible experiences she had.

Ashlee Rolfson said...

It's always fascinating to learn about people who have lived such long and eventful lives, and Rosemary's story is no exception. She witnessed and participated in so much, from the early days of aviation to the turbulent times of the World Wars.