Mistress of the Arts

As a Jane of all trades, the Savannah-born Haviland Stillwell just came out with her debut CD, but that didn’t stop her from finding time to land a guest spot on CSI: NY, lend her voice to a national children’s program, or live out her dream of performing on Broadway. She says she’s doing whatever it takes to make it big, but we think she already has. There’s no better way to get to know someone than by huddling together in a staircase on a cold day.

Haviland Stillwell, actor/singer (and self-proclaimed mover/shaker), and her father, Brooks Stillwell, attorney-at-law, both wear black coats. Brooks stands on the staircase landing, his back to a broad window full of white sky and the silhouetted buildings on Broughton Street. Haviland, though she looks more like she should be descending the staircase with Scarlett O’Hara-esque grace, perches on a step facing him. Beyond the window, the street traffic is faintly audible.

“She started dressing up and singing when she was 5,” Brooks says, looking at his daughter. “She was in every play they ever had in every school she was ever in—her first starring role was as the Little Red Hen.” Though she’s since gone on to perform on Broadway and in film and television, he still swells with pride as he says this. The Stillwells have been in Savannah for generations. “We’re old Savannah,” Haviland explains. She has a habit of smiling while she speaks.

Her mother was president of the Savannah Theatre, her stepmother president of the Lucas Theatre for the Arts. “Haviland literally grew up in empty theaters that needed to be restored,” Brooks says. “And now she’s raising money to help restore the Tybee Post Theater, so it all kind of fits.” Haviland is named after her grandmother, Gloria Haviland Fritts. That it’s also a name associated with Gone with the Wind is, she swears, happenstance. Olivia de Havilland played Melanie in the movie, a Southern belle full of gumption.

“In Hollywood, people generally assume that I’ve been named after her and once they find out I’m from Georgia, they’re convinced,” she says. The assumption is apt—Haviland, who used to carry her birth certificate around to prove the name was really her own, isn’t so unlike the character with whom she’s associated. One of the defining experiences of Haviland’s childhood in Savannah was going with her grandmother to Emma Kelly’s bar down on River Street. “There I was, only 5 or 6, spending my time in a bar,” Haviland remembers. Her tone reveals that the humor of this is not lost on her. “But I loved dancing with my grandmother and singing with Emma Kelly.” Though she moved to Atlanta in high school with her mother, Haviland says, “To this day, I still consider Savannah my home because that’s where I was born and raised and still come back to.” And come back she has, from her education at Ithaca College and NYU, from her Broadway performances, and now from her home in L.A. “Every time you mention in Los Angeles—or in New York—that you’re from Savannah, everyone has such a positive reaction to it,” Haviland says. “Everybody is so romanced by the city, even if they haven’t been here before. It’s a really special place to come from.” havilandstillwell.com

Photography by Tim Johnson