A HOLLYWOOD actress who appeared in films alongside Vivien Leigh and Errol Flynn has an unlikely connection to Barnsley in the form of a distant cousin. 

 

Dame Olivia de Havilland is most famous for her role alongside Vivien Leigh in the 1939 film Gone With the Wind.

 

She died on Sunday aged 104 at her home in Paris, France.  

 

Michelle Ruse, from Pogmoor, found out in her 20s that she is de Havilland’s great-great cousin and she struck up a correspondence with the star and her estranged sister, Joan Fontaine.

 

“I couldn’t believe it when I found out,” said Michelle, 40. “I am an acting teacher and my dad mentioned it off the cuff one day and I knew I had to get to the bottom of the mystery and see if I could contact Olivia and Joan.”

 

Michelle discovered that her grandfather, Vic Ruse, himself a popular football player, was the cousin of the famous sisters.

 

“I sent them both letters, I never expected them to reply, but they did and we would send letters back and forth for quite a few years,” added Michelle.

 

“When I sent the first letter which explained how we were related, I expected to receive a generic reply from their office but when the first envelope came that had an American stamp on it, I knew they had replied personally.

 

“They were both such lovely ladies, they didn’t really know much about the Ruse side of the family so I helped to fill in their gaps and they were happy to answer all my questions.

 

“I am really proud of the connection. How many people can say they are related to one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, let alone two?”

 

Joan died in 2013, at the age of 96, and Olivia died on Sunday aged 104.

 

“I was sad to find out Olivia had died,” added Michelle. “Even though I never met her personally I felt like I knew her. The letters are something I will treasure for all my life, and I can’t wait to show them to my daughter when she gets a little older.

 

“It’s so unique, and I am incredibly proud to be related to them.”