A California appeals court dealt a blow to 101-year-old actor Olivia de Havilland on Monday, ruling that her lawsuit against Ryan Murphy and his TV series, Feud: Bette and Joan, should be tossed.
De Havilland first filed the lawsuit in June on the basis that Murphy’s TV show unfairly depicts her as a “ vulgar hypocrite and gossip,” THR reports. Judge Holly Kendi initially determined that Feud is protected under the First Amendment, but nevertheless found that de Havilland was unlikely to prevail and allowed the lawsuit to go forth. But then!:
Less than a week after hearing oral arguments on the matter, the 2nd Appellate District reversed Kendig’s order on the motion to strike, and directed the trial court to grant the motion and award defendants their attorney fees and costs.
“The reversal is a victory for the creative community, and the First Amendment,” Murphy said in a statement. “Today’s victory gives all creators the breathing room necessary to continue to tell important historical stories inspired by true events. Most of all, it’s a great day for artistic expression and a reminder of how precious our freedom remains.”
Had the lawsuit proceeded in de Havilland’s favor, it would have similarly impacted all works that portray real people, the opinion read.
“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,” it said. “Nor does she or he have the legal right to control, dictate, approve, disapprove or veto the creator’s portrayal of actual people.”
De Havilland, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, took issue specifically with scenes that entailed her calling her estranged sister a “bitch,” as well as a joke she makes about Frank Sinatra’s drinking habits, the Guardian reports. The show’s writers countered that they had it on good authority that de Havilland had in fact called her sister a “dragon lady,” which is basically old-timey speak for “bitch.” They added:
“As played by Zeta-Jones, the De Havilland character is portrayed as beautiful, glamorous, self-assured, and considerably ahead of her time in her views on the importance of equality and respect for women in Hollywood.”
Anyway, de Havilland appears in only 17 minutes of the entire six-and-a-half-hour series. The show’s main focus examines the prolonged dispute between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, both of whom had the good sense to die before they could spend their final time on Earth worried about an FX docudrama.