The recent deaths of actresses Patricia Morrison (age 103) and Mary Carlisle (age 104) got me wondering how many show business centenarians are still with us. Among actors and actresses I can only come up with Olivia de Havilland, Kirk Douglas, Marsha Hunt and Norman Lloyd.
It’s one thing to make it into your hundreds; it’s another to be able to do so while staying relatively healthy and still having your wits about you, as they say. From what I understand Mr. Douglas, Mr. Lloyd, Miss de Havilland and Miss Hunt have been pretty fortunate in that regard. Good for them. I believe they’re all still living at home also, which is a big plus. (Besides having great genes and good luck, it helps to have money too.)
Topping the list of big stars that are still around is Olivia de Havilland at 103-years-old. She made her film debut in Warner Bros. studio’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1935. She and her younger sister, Joan Fontaine have the distinction of being the only siblings to have won Academy Awards in a lead acting category. (Miss Fontaine passed away in 2013 at the age of 96.)
Miss de Havilland won Oscars for The Heiress, and To Each His Own, as well as being nominated by the Academy three additional times. She’s been honored by the Golden Globes, New York Film Critics and National Board of Review. In 2008, President George W. Bush presented Miss de Havilland the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor given for achievement in the arts conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the American people.
On September 9, 2010 de Havilland was appointed a Chevalier (knight) of the Légion d’honneur, the highest decoration in France, awarded by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In June 2017, two weeks before her 101st birthday, de Havilland was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2017 Birthday Honours for services to drama.
Kirk Douglas will turn 102 this December. His first picture was The Strange Love of Martha Ivers opposite Barbara Stanwyck, a classic film noir from 1946. Douglas has received three Academy Award nominations, an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Currently, he is No. 17 on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest male screen legends of classic Hollywood cinema.
Although Douglas was one of the biggest leading men in movies throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, my favorite roles of his were always the more quirky and villainous ones from his early years. Martha Ivers, Out of the Past, Champion, Young Man with a Horn, Ace in the Hole, Detective Story and The Bad and the Beautiful are some examples.
After a stint as a John Powers model and radio singer, Marsha Hunt arrived in Hollywood in 1934 at the age of 17. She signed with Paramount and wound up in mostly in westerns and light comedy “B” pictures. She switched to MGM in 1939 and was given weightier parts in better pictures such as Pride and Prejudice, Blossoms in the Dust, and The Human Comedy.
Though offering wonderful support in many of Metro’s big hits, sadly she never got a lead in an “A” picture. Because of her membership and association in many left-wing organizations throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s her career was hampered and work became scarce, though she continued getting parts on stage and TV along with the occasional movie role until quite recently. Miss Hunt will be 101 years old this October.
At 103-years-old Norman Lloyd is still at it! An actor, producer and director, his career has spanned eight decades. Having worked in just about every area of the entertainment industry (he might have missed flea circuses and minstrel shows) including radio, theatre, television and film dating back to the Great Depression, he is officially the oldest working actor in Hollywood.
One of the original members of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre, Lloyd brought the house down in Caesar, the company’s very first production. In 1942 he played a Nazi spy in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur, beginning a long association and friendship with the director. Hitchcock hired Lloyd as an associate producer and a director on his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1958.
In the 1980s Lloyd starred in the television drama St. Elsewhere over its six-season run (1982–88). In 1989 he made his first film role in nearly a decade, playing the authoritative headmaster of Welton Academy in Dead Poets Society. In addition to directing and producing, he has guested on TV shows for more than 50 years. Lloyd currently stars in Fly, a TV-series that premiered in January 2018. Amazing!
In a business where you have to be tough to survive, there’s no doubt that Olivia de Havilland, Kirk Douglas, Marsha Hunt and Norman Lloyd are among the toughest.
Greg Crosby is a writer and cartoonist and former executive at the Walt Disney Company.