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Olivia de Havilland honored by French president

- Associated Press - Thursday, September 9, 2010

PARIS (AP) - Oscar-winning actress Olivia de Havilland, whose memorable performance in "Gone With The Wind" still touches hearts 70 years later, was awarded the Legion of Honor on Thursday by the president of France.

At 94, de Havilland looked radiant as Nicolas Sarkozy pinned her with the insignia of the chevalier, or knight, of the Legion of Honor at a ceremony at the presidential palace.

Sarkozy told de Havilland that "you honor France for having chosen us." The American actress of British origin has lived in Paris since 1953.

De Havilland played the role of fragile southern belle Melanie Wilkes in "Gone With The Wind," and is the last surviving major star of the 1939 classic. Her performance in another movie, "To Each His Own" in 1946, gave her a first Oscar.

Sarkozy praised de Havilland's courage for her lawsuit against Warner Bros.

After demanding more substantial scripts from Warner Bros., de Havilland got to co-star with Bette Davis in "In this Our Life" (1942). But she bulked at being typecast as an ingenue so the studio placed her on suspension. When her contract ended, Warner Bros. said she owed them time. She then sued.

The court's landmark ruling in her favor transformed the studio system's hold on stars, giving them more freedom.

"You are a rebel because you are the only one who dared file a suit against the studios to defend the liberty of actors," Sarkozy said. "You won. It's exceptional."

Also honored at the ceremony was Jacqueline Bisset, 65, whom Sarkozy called "a movie icon," noting her role in the 1973 "La Nuit Americaine" by Francois Truffaut.

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