July 1st, 2016 marks the 100th birthday of a living legend – the last vestige of Hollywood’s Golden Age, the great Olivia de Havilland. Ms. de Havilland’s film career spans across the decades but she is best known for playing the noble heroine, Maid Marian, opposite the swashbuckling Errol Flynn in “The Adventures of Robin Hood” along with her portrayal as Melanie Wilkes in the most successful film in box office history, “Gone With the Wind”.
Even among “Gone With the Wind”‘s most hardcore fans, few are aware that the Hollywood epic film which won Best Picture in 1939 is a movie with a core foundation that’s subtly yet powerfully astrological. The creator of the same titled book, Margaret Mitchell, was a writer with a strong interest in astrology and sculpted a tale of the ante-bellum South where astrology is expertly interwoven within the story and each of GWTW’s main characters archetypally represent each of the 12 signs of the Zodiac.
For example, the story’s central figure, Scarlett O’Hara, archetypally represents the Mars ruled sign of Aries. When astrologically analyzed:
Scarlett O’Hara represents the sign of Aries. Aries is ruled by the Red Planet Mars. “Red” is another way of saying “Scarlett”.
Of the entire cast of Gone With the Wind, Olivia de Havilland is the only actor whose birth sign matches the character she portrays – that being the first representative of the element of Water, best known for its nurturing capabilities, the sign of Cancer, the Crab.
Whereas every actress in Hollywood desperately coveted playing the film’s lead role of Scarlett, upon reading Mitchell’s novel, Olivia de Havilland deeply desired to play one role only – the Cancerian character of Melanie Hamilton-Wilkes.
But the road leading to the bar-b-que at 12 Oaks Plantation where Melanie first makes her entrance was anything but a green lit one-way street. The Cancerian actress had committed herself to prior arrangements that at the time seemed impossible to get around. Luckily for GWTW fans, the actress who would so perfectly portray the Cancerian character of Melanie would end up nabbing that role of a lifetime by putting her inherent Cancerian capabilities to optimal use and applying them with maximum potential.
“Melanie was someone different. She had very, deeply feminine qualities … that’s why I wanted to interpret her role. … The main thing is that she was always thinking of the other person, and the interesting thing to me is that she was a happy person … loving, compassionate.”
– Olivia de Havilland
In 1934, 18 year old Olivia de Havilland was still in the process of deciding whether to pursue becoming an actress or a school teacher when she was offered a 5 year contract with Warner Brothers Studios. What seemed to be a dream come true for the naturally talented actress with the strikingly wholesome good looks would soon enough prove to be a gilded covered cage of legality in disguise, most especially when casting began for producer David O. Selznick’s upcoming extravaganza Civil War film, “Gone With the Wind” in 1938.
The typical contracted actor during Hollywood’s Golden Age was restricted by “type”. Olivia de Havilland was contracted by Warner Brothers to portray two types of ingénue, or innocent young girl roles – the perpetually good natured girl next door and/or the brainless ditz.
Not only did the President of Warner Brothers forbid Olivia de Havilland from acting out of “type” when the actress approached him about playing the character of “Melanie”, Jack Warner refused in no uncertain terms to loan de Havilland out to MGM regardless whether she landed the role or not.
With the sign of the Crab’s watery foundation and association with motherhood and nurturing, Cancer is considered one of the most feminine of signs. Sensing from her core how right the role of Melanie fit her sensibilities, Olivia de Havilland took an altogether different approach to securing the part. Rather than aggressively combat Jack Warner “mano a mano”, the Crab born actress continued to fight for her cause by turning away from the combative masculine and taking a risk with the diplomatic feminine.
In other words, rather than overtly arguing with a man for the role, the Cancerian actress circumvented aggression altogether by appealing to that same man’s wife, namely Jack Warner’s spouse, Anne.
Warner would later recall:
“Olivia, who had a brain like a computer concealed behind those fawn-like eyes, simply went to my wife and they joined forces to change my mind.”
The Water Signed Role of a Lifetime
As stated earlier, Margaret Mitchell, the author of GWTW was also an astrology enthusiast and each of the story’s main characters are archetypal representatives of each of the 12 signs of the Zodiac (The story unfolds at the 12 Oaks Plantation).
When looking at the story from strictly an astrological perspective, Ms. Mitchell clearly favored certain signs and harbored great disdain for others. For example, the two characters representing the chatty sign of Gemini are blithering Air heads that constantly babble non-stop about a whole lot of nuthin’ – Aunt Pittypat and Scarlett’s servant, Prissy. And when either character stops or slows down for the audience to actually hear what they’re saying, the chatter noise is reduced to a single stock phrase that’s repeated over and over.
Aunt Pittypat: “My smellin’ salts! Where are my smellin’ salts!”
Prissy: “I don’t know nuthin’ about birthin’ no babies! I’s lyin’!”
With the sign of Cancer, a diametrically different approach was taken.
Despite her astrological biases, Margaret Mitchell’s archetypal portrayal of the sign of Cancer is exceptional due to the character of Melanie Wilkes representing only the very best of that sign’s traits. Purposefully exempting Cancer’s unevolved qualities of hoarding, emotional co-dependency, or their tendency to emotionally smother or be overly reclusive, GWTW’s author instead focuses on the sign of the Crab’s two greatest strengths – emotionally based intuition and their inherent ability to maternally nurture.
The Force that is the Cancerian Mother
Cancer is known as the “Mommy” sign. With their ability to naturally nurture others, the sign of the Crab, regardless of gender, will “mommy” those they are emotionally attached to, whether they are related by blood or not. And being a Mommy to everyone is central to the character of Melanie Wilkes.
Where the birth of Bonnie Butler, Rhett and Scarlett’s child takes place off camera, the birth of Melanie’s first child takes up a quarter of the first half of the film. Being the archetypal representative of the sign of the Mommy, Mrs. Wilkes also delivers some powerful statements regarding the subject of being a mother:
“Not want a baby?! Why every woman wants a baby!”
“Children are Life renewing itself, Captain Butler. And when Life does that, danger seems very unimportant.”
To emphasize just how important the role of motherhood is to the Cancerian character of Melanie, this central figure loses her life how? – in the midst of giving birth to her second child.
The character of Melanie Wilkes oversteps social mores by personally thanking brothel madame, Belle Watling, played by Ona Munson, on the evening carriage downlow.
Melanie Hamilton-Wilkes stands out from the rest of GWTW’s cast of characters most notably because she has no enemies. This is due to the Cancerian fostering interpersonal relationships with everyone she deals with by using her maternal skills and nurturing capabilities.
Melanie’s integrity and concern for others goes so far as to defy the social standards of the time. If the Cancer feels the need to speak from her heart, she does so no matter who is in front of her, such as when Melanie personally thanks Belle Watling, the madame of a local brothel who hides her husband as authorities sought to arrest him:
Belle: “If you ever see me on the street, you don’t have to speak to me. I’ll understand.”
Melanie: “I shall be proud to speak to you. Proud to be under obligation to you.”
de Havilland’s mastery as a Cancerian actor is best epitomized in the film clip below. The scene takes place after the War has recently ended and Tara is used as a gathering hub for Confederate soldiers. Scarlett and Melanie are standing on the plantation’s porch when from far off in the distance a scarecrow-thin soldier is spotted hobbling towards the house. As Scarlett moans “Oh another one. I hope this one isn’t hungry.” Melanie maternally starts to reply “I’ll tell Prissy to get an extra plate…..” but then freezes in silence. Her eyes become huge as she takes in a deep breath while clasping at her throat. Before Scarlett can even figure out what’s going on, Melanie takes off like a wild gazelle, power sprinting towards the emaciated soldier since her Cancerian intuition has informed her the limping stick figure who can barely walk is in actuality her husband, Ashley whom they last heard was captured by Union forces and led to believe he was permanently missing in action.
Gone With the Wind as a whole is an over-romanticized summation of the antebellum years just prior to the Battle between the Union and the Confederates in an attempt to capture what many call “the glorious Old South” before it was ravaged by war and industrialization. Despite its historical inaccuracies and simplistic approach GWTW’s astrological framework makes both the story and the film incredibly fascinating and important artifacts in their own right.
But in my opinion, what catapults the GWTW phenomena into the greatest box office success of all time is the gathering of artistry brought together to create this celluloid work of art – most especially of the contributions made by an actress born beneath the sign of Cancer playing a character that is the archetypal representative of that same sign named Olivia de Havilland.
With deepest thanks for your artistry that’s become all but extinct in the modern day. Happy 100th, Ms. de Havilland.
*Brad Kronen’s book “Love in the Stars” published by Llewellyn Worldwide, Inc. is available for purchase at your local book seller or online at amazon.com at the link listed below.