Olivia de Havilland: Acting legend loses court battle over TV drama Feud

Olivia de Havilland in 2011 and Catherine Zeta JonesImage copyrightGetty Images/FX
Image caption Olivia de Havilland, pictured in 2011, was played by Catherine Zeta Jones in Feud

Oscar-winning actress Dame Olivia de Havilland has lost a legal battle with the makers of US TV drama Feud.

Dame Olivia, 101, had objected to how she was depicted in the series, which explored the bad blood between screen legends Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.

But a state appeals court in California said allowing the case to proceed would interfere with authors’ rights to dramatise historical events.

Olivia de Havilland: Acting legend loses court battle over TV drama Feud
Olivia de Havilland: Acting legend loses court battle over TV drama Feud

Creator Ryan Murphy called the ruling a “victory for the creative community”.

Murphy said the decision “gives all creators the breathing room necessary to continue to tell important historical stories inspired by true events”.

De Havilland, who starred in Gone with the Wind, among other classic films, filed a lawsuit against Murphy and FX Networks last year, claiming Feud portrayed her as a “petty gossip”.

Fellow Oscar winner Catherine Zeta Jones played de Havilland in the show, which was broadcast on BBC Two in the UK last year and won two Emmy Awards.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Ryan Murphy with Susan Sarandon (left) and Jessica Lange, who played Davis and Crawford respectively

Dame Olivia claimed her portrayal was inaccurate because it showed her calling her sister, Joan Fontaine, a “bitch”, and commenting on Frank Sinatra’s drinking habits.

But three judges unanimously ordered the dismissal of the case on Monday and ruled that the retired actress 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,” wrote judge Anne Egerton.

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

Suzelle Smith, a lawyer for de Havilland, said the California appeal court’s decision had denied the actress her constitutional rights and that she would appeal.

A second season of Feud was given the go-ahead last year and will focus on the divorce of Prince Charles and Diana Princess of Wales.

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