De Havilland’s Feud: Bette And Joan lawsuit is defeated

De Havilland’s Feud: Bette And Joan lawsuit is defeated

Dame Olivia de Havilland’s lawsuit over her portrayal in Feud: Bette And Joan has been thrown out.

The 101-year-old double Oscar-winner sued FX Network over the docudrama, claiming it breached her right to privacy and defamed her by incorrectly portraying her as a gossip.

Dame Olivia claimed her portrayal by Catherine Zeta-Jones was inaccurate for showing her calling her sister Joan Fontaine a “bitch” and commenting on Frank Sinatra’s drinking habits.

But an appeals court in California ordered the dismissal of the case on Monday and ruled Dame Olivia must pay FX’s legal fees and costs.

“Whether a person portrayed in one of these expressive works is a world-renowned film star – ‘a living legend’ – or a person no one knows, she or he does not own history,” judge Anne Egerton wrote.

“Nor does she or he have the legal right to control, dictate, approve, disapprove, or veto the creator’s portrayal of actual people.”

The network last week appealed against an earlier decision not to dismiss the case, saying the docudrama genre can use creative licence to update her words for a “contemporary audience”.

Dame Olivia de Havilland says the show incorrectly portrayed her as a gossip (PA)
Dame Olivia de Havilland says the show incorrectly portrayed her as a gossip (PA)

FX lawyers argued the British-America movie veteran may not have called her sibling a bitch, but did call her a “dragon lady” in an interview on her 100th birthday.

“Docudramas are understood not to be a literal retelling of history, that’s the role of documentaries,” Kelly Klaus said.

Rejecting this would create an “incredibly dangerous” standard, he added.

Suzelle Smith, representing the Paris-based Gone With The Wind actress, told the court that dragon lady and bitch are not synonymous or equivalent in offensiveness.

“In my household, if you use the word bitch, you get your mouth washed out,” she said.

Dame Olivia, pictured here in 1959, won Oscars in 1946 and 1949 (PA)
Dame Olivia, pictured here in 1959, won Oscars in 1946 and 1949 (PA)

It was not the first time a major Hollywood company has been taken on by Dame Olivia, who won Oscars for 1946’s To Each His Own and 1949’s The Heiress.

She won a landmark victory over Warner Bros in 1943 which effectively ended actors’ contract servitude.

Joan Fontaine died in 2013 (PA)
Joan Fontaine died in 2013 (PA)

Dame Olivia had demanded damages from the network and for a permanent injunction preventing the show’s broadcast.

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