Olivia de Havilland can move forward with her lawsuit alleging FX Networks falsely portrayed her in an anthology series about the infamous feud between fellow actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and used her image without providing any compensation, a judge ruled Friday.
The judge rejected defense arguments to dismiss her case on free-speech grounds.
“They’re in deep trouble,” de Havilland attorney Don Howarth said outside the courtroom after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly Kendig issued her ruling.
Howarth predicted a jury will see the case in the same way as the judge.
FX Networks attorney Robert Rotstein told the judge his clients will appeal, but that he would work with the other side to try and keep the trial date reasonably close to the Nov. 27 date Kendig previously set in giving de Havilland priority because the actress is 101 years old.
In her ruling, Kendig said that although the series “Feud: Bette and Joan” was aired in the public forum of television and dealt with a subject of public interest, de Havilland still showed a likelihood of “prevailing on the merits.”
Kendig also found that de Havilland — who under the law is a public figure — showed that the network either knew that aspects of the series were false, or did not care whether they were true or not.
The judge cited four examples, including a depiction of a 1978 Academy Awards interview in which de Havilland disparaged Davis and Crawford. Kendig said the evidence showed the interview never took place.
Kendig also said de Havilland was falsely portrayed as someone who was a “gossip” and who used vulgar language against others, including her sister, Joan Fontaine, and that she had made disparaging remarks about Frank Sinatra’s drinking habits.
Kendig said she disagreed with the defense that the series was “transformative” and said there was evidence the network benefited financially from the use of de Havilland’s name.
She additionally said that because de Havilland is still alive, she could have been asked about the accuracy of some of the matters now in dispute.
De Havilland’s suit, filed June 30, alleges false light invasion of privacy, infringement of the right of publicity and unjust enrichment. De Havilland’s 49 feature film roles included portraying Melanie Hamilton in “Gone with the Wind.”
Catherine Zeta-Jones portrayed de Havilland in the series, which starred Jessica Lange as Crawford and Susan Sarandon as Davis.
Crawford died in May 1977 and Davis in October 1989.
A two-time Academy Award winner for her lead roles in “To Each His Own” and “The Heiress,” de Havilland “has built a professional reputation for integrity, honesty, generosity, self-sacrifice and dignity,” according to her complaint. “A key reason for the public’s deep respect for Olivia de Havilland is that in her 80-plus year career, she has steadfastly refused to engage in typical Hollywood gossip about the relationships of other actors.”
–City News Service