Lawyers for Olivia de Havilland filed a petition with the state Supreme Court Friday seeking reinstatement of the actress’ lawsuit against the FX Network over her depiction in the docudrama series “Feud: Bette and Joan.”
A three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court found in March that the production was protected by the First Amendment, reversing Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly Kendig’s earlier decision allowing the lawsuit filed in June 2017 to proceed to trial.
The petition filed on behalf of the 101-year-old actress asks the state’s high court to review whether the appellate court ruling renders the anti-SLAPP statute unconstitutional and if the use of a living celebrity’s name and likeness in a realistic portrayal is “transformative” under current law.
“Review should also be granted because the opinion establishes new rules of law that conflict with the decisions of this court, of the U.S. Supreme Court and with those of other appellate courts,” according to the petition.
If left to stand, the appellate opinion “would extend constitutional protection to any knowingly false statements as long as the defendant produces a self-serving declaration claiming they were made in good faith,” the petition states. “Such a result would effectively abolish virtually all claims of defamation and false light.”
De Havilland’s lawyers argued in part that the series showed her calling her sister, Joan Fontaine, a “bitch,” when in reality she called her a “dragon lady.” Her attorneys argued that the scene falsely portrayed the actress known for her role as Melanie Hamilton in “Gone with the Wind” as a vulgar woman.
While arguing the case before the appeals panel, FX attorney Kelly Klaus countered that the show portrayed de Havilland in a positive light, painting her as a fiercely loyal friend.
“The show simply does not portray Ms. De Havilland as a vulgarian,” Klaus said.
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.”