Olivia de Havilland was more than just angry when she learned how she was portrayed in last year’s FX limited series Feud: Bette and Joan. The Hollywood legend felt blindsided by the show.
“Mystification and indignation,” the 102-year-old star of Gone With the Wind, The Heiress and other classic movies recalled feeling in a recent email interview from her home in Paris.
“I was furious. I certainly expected that I would be consulted about the text. I never imagined that anyone would misrepresent me.”
The two-time Oscar-winning actress is refusing to back down in her year-and-a-half-long battle with FX Networks, alleging the 21st Century Fox-owned cable network never obtained her permission and defamed her in the Ryan Murphy-produced limited series.
Despite losing her bids in a California appeals court in March and the state Supreme Court in July, the star is now petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to consider her case. In what has shaped up to be a battle over 1st Amendment rights, de Havilland is seeking to reverse the appeals court decision so she can pursue a jury trial.
Defamation disputes are common in Hollywood, where fictionalized dramas depicting real-life people are a staple of TV and films. Movies as recent as The Wolf of Wall Street and The Hurt Locker have been targeted by the people they portray. But de Havilland is one of the most prominent figures to take a studio to court over the way she was depicted.
De Havilland contends FX violated her free speech rights by deliberately misrepresenting her as a profane gossip and attributing false words to her, including obscenities aimed at her sister, actress Joan Fontaine.
Though experts say the actress faces an uphill battle because she is a public figure, the major studios are watching the case closely. A victory for the star would have serious repercussions on how they make biopics and other shows.
The actress was just 27 when she risked her career by suing Warner Bros. in 1943 over her restrictive studio contract. The studio blacklisted her, but she prevailed in a landmark ruling that bears her name: the De Havilland Law, which is still part of the California Labour Code and prohibits the enforcement of personal services contracts beyond seven years.
Now, de Havilland is proving once again that she is a tenacious studio adversary, even at her advanced age.
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