This is classic Hollywood history as told through the life and career of one of its most
iconic actresses. The book benefits tremendously from the author's meeting with Olivia de Havilland after he was assigned to handle her projected memoir at the Delacorte Press in 1973. Amburn also knew many of the key figures in her life and career, a veritable pantheon of Hollywood royalty from the 30s, 40s, and 50s: Jimmy Stewart, George Cukor, and David O. Selznick, and he was an editor at William Morrow when the company published the autobiography of de Havilland's difficult sister Joan Fontaine.
Superbly researched and full of delicious anecdotes about Clark Gable, John Huston, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Montgomery Clift, Errol Flynn, David Niven, and Bette Davis--particularly the bloody, bone-crunching fistfight Flynn and Huston waged over Olivia--this book not only profiles one of the finest actresses of her time, but also the culture of the film industry's Golden Age.
It details de Havilland's relationships with the men who sought her--Howard Hughes, Jimmy Stewart, Errol Flynn, John F. Kennedy, Burgess Meredith, and John Huston, as well as her friendships with Grace Kelly, British Prime Minister Edward Heath, Ronald Reagan, Victor Fleming, and Ingrid Bergman.
Woven throughout this biography is de Havilland's feud with her reckless and beautiful sister and archrival for men and movie roles, Joan Fontaine, a lifelong conflict that lays bare the complex character of both women. Joan, whose arch behavior is dissected in the author's interview with her Morrow publicist, tried to hijack Howard Hughes, who'd asked Olivia to marry him. He also proposed to Joan.
Here, too, are the fabulous and often surprising back stories of her 49 films, including Gone With the Wind, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Snake Pit, Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and the two for which she won Oscars, The Heiress and To Each His Own. The account of the filming of Gone With the Wind is unique in that the author interviewed many of the people involved in the epic making of this masterpiece as Lois Dwight Cole, who discovered the novel, producer David O. Selznick, director George Cukor, agents Kay Brown and Annie Laurie Williams, Radie Harris, Vivien Leigh's closest friend in the press, and both Edie Goetz and Irene Mayer Selznick, daughters of Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, the studio that funded, released, and ended up owning Gone With the Wind.
Also included in this biography are Olivia's adventures with Bette Davis. They appeared together in four movies and Davis tried to destroy her, but Olivia stood up to Davis as no other actress had ever dared to do. She won Davis's respect, and by the time they made their biggest hit, Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte, a lasting friendship had blossomed. Undertaking a joint national publicity tour, they attracted mobs of boisterous fans and, in private, reminisced about the Golden Age of movies, evaluated the current crop of stars, and exchanged observations about love goddesses, nudity, and parenthood.
A 1954 graduate of Texas Christian University, Ellis Amburn worked as a reporter for Newsweek before going into the book publishing industry where, he rose to the position of editor, working for such well-known publishers as Delacorte Press, Coward-McCann, and William Morrow. During his career, Amburn was an editor for such authors as John le Carré, Belva Plain, Muriel Spark, Joshua Logan and Jack Kerouac, who would be the subject of Amburn's 1998 book Subterranean Kerouac.
Amburn served as editorial director for G. P. Putnam's Sons and in addition worked as a ghostwriter for Priscilla Presley, Shelley Winters, Peggy Lee and Zsa Zsa Gabor. In 1990, he produced his first biography on fellow Texan Roy Orbison.
Amburn lives in High Springs, Florida, outside of Gainesville and in Tifton, Georgia.