Having lost in previous appeals at the state level, 102-year-old Olivia de Havilland is now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her lawsuit alleging she was falsely portrayed in an FX Networks anthology series about the feud between fellow actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
“I would have engaged a lawyer and have insisted that the two of us be consulted about any text which involved me,” de Havilland told the Los Angeles Times via an email exchange with one of the newspaper’s writers. “If the actress who portrayed me had asked to meet with me, I would have agreed to do so, under proper conditions.”
The actress obtained her only court victory in September 2017, when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly Kendig rejected FX Networks’ claims the suit she filed that June should be dismissed on free-speech grounds. The judge ruled 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” and that her case should go to trial.
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.
FX Networks appealed and Kendig’s decision was overturned by a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal. The state Supreme Court declined to hear de Havillland’s petition for review.
“De Havilland has argued that she has never publicly referred to her sister as a “bitch,” according to The Times. “She has admitted to calling Fontaine a “dragon lady”, but maintains that the two phrases are completely different in meaning and tone, The Times reported.
De Havilland was “furious” when she saw how she was portrayed by FX Networks, she told The Times.
“I certainly expected that I would be consulted about the text,” she told The Times. “I never imagined that anyone would misrepresent me.”
De Havilland’s U.S. Supreme Court petition states that if left to stand, the 2nd District Court of Appeal decision would allow “knowing falsehoods about living persons in profitable docudramas.”
In November, FX Networks filed court papers asking the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear her case.
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.
De Havilland’s 49 feature film roles included portraying Melanie Hamilton in “Gone with the Wind.” 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.”
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