Key West has a curious connection with the whole “six degrees of separation” thing. The tiny island has a global reach, and finds ways to connect people, across oceans, eras and languages.
The Tropic Cinema has harnessed those connections and will undoubtedly create new ones during its upcoming “Olivia de Havilland Retrospective” Feb. 10-17.
Perhaps best known for her Oscar-nominated performance as Melanie Hamilton Wilkes, Scarlett O’Hara’s sister-in-law, in “Gone With the Wind,” de Havilland was a screen and stage legend in the golden age of Hollywood, often starring opposite Errol Flynn.
And hence, the first Key West connection.
The late businessman and former owner of the Pier House Resort, David Wolkowski, was also friends with Flynn, who had visited Wolkowski in Key West.
That connection, decades later, prompted Key West residents Amy Bondurant and David Dunn, who divided their time between here and Paris, where de Havilland had lived since the 1950s, to connect Wolkowski and the actress.
“We simply adored Olivia,” Bondurant said. “We used to call her Mama O. And I knew that she had always, always had pen pals,” initially writing letters in longhand and then eventually graduating to email.
Bondurant connected Wolkowski with de Havilland and the two began a pen pal relationship that spanned years.
“I remember, I used to be the middle man passing their emails back and forth,” but then, once they got to know each other, “they cut me out of it,” Bondurant said, laughing and recalling the time her husband, Dunn, first met de Havilland at a party in Paris.
“He was talking and laughing with this woman whom I didn’t know,” Bondurant said. “So I assumed David had known her for some time, given the way they were laughing and getting along.”
It turns out, the two had just met at that party. A fast friendship was born that kept the friends close during their time in Paris.
When de Havilland died in 2020 at the age of 104, she was the “oldest living and earliest surviving Academy Award winner and was widely considered as being the last surviving major star from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema,” according to the Wikipedia entry about her.
A 2020 Vanity Fair article, published shortly after her death, reveals a bit of the inside scoop surrounding de Havilland’s Oscar nomination for “Gone With the Wind.”
Apparently, she had heard ahead of time that Hattie McDaniel had beaten her out for the Oscar. McDaniel, the child of slaves, was the first African American woman to win an Oscar, and she got it for playing the house slave Mammy.
In addition to “Gone With the Wind,” de Havilland starred in films such as “Captain Blood,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “The Heiress.”
She is also the star of a new documentary, “The Rebellious Olivia de Havilland.”
The documentary, along with several of de Havilland’s films, will make up the retrospective at the Tropic.
De Havilland’s daughter, Gisele Galante, will be in town for the event, further solidifying the family’s enduring Key West connections.
Galante, who grew up in Paris, speaks with a charming French accent despite her current life in Malibu, California, where she is married to Andy Chulack, a film editor who was known for his work on “Cheers,” “Hill Street Blues” and “Coach.”
Galante will be in Key West next week to share memories and insider anecdotes about her famous and famously well-liked mother, who appeared in 49 feature films.
“When I was 8 years old, my mother took me to Los Angeles, where she was to shoot ‘Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte,’” Galante said. “It was my first time on a movie set. I admired her kindness with everyone on the set and her patience and graciousness with her fans, who were all waiting in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel, where we were staying, to have a photo taken with her.”
Galante said she always admired her mother’s embrace of the aging process. She never fought it, never lied about her age and never had any cosmetic surgery — not even a Botox injection, Galante said.
“One day, my mother said to me that her recipe for longevity contains three ingredients, and she made sure that all three were present in her life. They all start with the letter L: Love, laughter and learning.”
All three of those essential ingredients will be overflowing during the Olivia de Havilland Retrospective at the Tropic Cinema.
“To understand Olivia de Havilland is to appreciate the layers of talent, activism and influence that shape the narrative of a Hollywood legend,” said Carla Turner, executive director of the Tropic. “At the Tropic, welcoming filmmakers is not just about screening movies; it’s a celebration of creativity, a nod to the power of storytelling, and a commitment to enriching our local culture with the diverse voices of the cinematic world.
“When we bring filmmakers it’s not just for the art they create, but for the magic they share with our audiences – a vibrant exchange that turns movie nights into unforgettable experiences. And I love that the Tropic Cinema is a place where friends gather and the magic of film unfolds – a place not just to watch, but to share, learn, and celebrate the art of storytelling together.”
Visit tropiccinema.com for the screening schedule of de Havilland’s films and the documentary about her. Individual tickets are available, as well as an all-access pass.