George Hamilton Reflects on Working With Olivia de Havilland: "She Was an Amazing Woman"

ONE TIME USE ONLY-De Havilland, then 46, and Hamilton, 23, starred  in the 1962 romantic drama Light in the Piazza-EVERETT COLLECTION-H 2020
Everett Collection

The actor, who starred alongside the late de Havilland in 'Light in the Piazza,' reflects on wishing "she had been my girlfriend."

She was an amazing woman. At the beginning, I worked with her on Light in the Piazza in Italy, which was extraordinary. There's a British director named Guy Green and a young actress named Yvette Mimieux, and we started working together and in came this force field of Olivia de Havilland. She had done so much, had been such a great star, and I was always joking with her and she was flirting with me. It was an amazing thing because this is a woman who you have the greatest respect for, she had great style and she was a Dame and she'd been brought up in England and had done the most important movie that Hollywood had ever known, and yet she was flirting with me.

I couldn't believe it and I realized that she kind of looked at men, especially leading men or potential leading men, as scamps; she told me she did the same thing with Errol Flynn. I laughed at that and I said, "Well, you didn't really actually flirt with Errol Flynn?" She said "I didn't have to, he did everything."

She was very together and had a wonderful British accent, and I didn't know if she was there to go over my grades in school or whether she was this incredible woman who had suffered long in the character of Melanie — I only knew her that way. To see that she had this whole side of her that was scamp and funny was amazing to me. She immediately said, "Don't worry about a thing, we're going to have a wonderful time." She said, "We must have lunch, I have to know you before I can work with you." I thought, "My God, she's just the most take-charge person," yet at the same time there's something very demure about her. That was the thing that was so interesting about her, there was a force field around her and this barrier, and she was the only one who could take it down, and when she did, she let you in and it was amazing. 

I was playing an Italian boy and so I was trying to speak with an Italian accent. It's hard enough to try to act, but to act with Olivia de Havilland playing an Italian boy in a film — she found it very amusing. I would have lunches with her, and I didn't know if I was rehearsing or whether I was actually having lunch with her, you couldn't tell, it was just so relaxed and so easy. Her ability to act was extraordinary; she did that without thinking. She just made you feel like she wasn't acting, and there I was trying to be an Italian boy and she just gave me the permission to be myself. I look at the picture every once in a while because I always remember her being just this wonderful woman. And she was such a great actor on top of it. There are actors that make you feel like you have to act, and there are actors that make you feel like you don't want to act. She was one of those that made you feel that you didn't need to act.

Over the years, Olivia de Havilland was a friend of my mother's as well, and my mother loved her. We had a house here and she would come by and have dinner from time to time, but it was never quite the same. I always felt like I wished Olivia de Havilland had been my girlfriend. I had to admit that, I don't know why, I just thought she was just amazing. 

You see those pictures on the fainting couch and a woman leaning back with her hand to her head — that was the way you thought she was going to be and she was not like that at all, but that's the way most people approached her because they thought that she was that. But that was the British accent and the great manners and the great style in which she was brought up. Underneath that was this amazing, sensitive — it's hard because she wasn't sexy in the way that we would think sexy, but she was sexy in another way. I was besotted, too.

Light in the Piazza was a picture of people being involved, and I think Guy Green was in love with Yvette Mimieux and I was in love with Olivia de Havilland, and it wasn't right for any of us. 

A version of this story first appeared in the July 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.