Court Dismisses Olivia De Havilland ‘Feud’ Defamation Lawsuit Against FX

The legal dispute between FX Networks and Dame Olivia de Havilland has come to an end. The court dismissed the actress's defamation lawsuit.

Feuding Over Her Image

The closely watched battle, which had the potential to impact the film and TV industry in myriad ways, has been going on for several weeks. Now, a Californian appellate court has dismissed de Havilland's lawsuit.

De Havilland, who's known for her role in the movie Gone With the Wind, objected to her portrayal in Feud: Bette and Joan.

The series, from Ryan Murphy, the maestro behind American Horror Story and American Crime Story, starred Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange in the lead roles.

Nominated for 18 Emmy Awards, among many others, the show focused on the difficult working relationship between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, particularly during the filming of 1962 thriller Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? De Havilland, a close friend of Davis, was portrayed by Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Her lawsuit, filed last June, was multi-pronged. The most damning accusations claimed the actress did not consent to her likeness being used in the first place.

She also objected to the inaccurate portrayal of her, particularly a scene where she refers to her sister, Joan Fontaine, as as "b***h," and another where she makes light of Frank Sinatra's drinking problem.

Taking A Stand

On Monday, the court was very clear on its decision in relation to de Havilland's claims.

"Books, films, plays and television shows often portray real people. Whether a person portrayed in one of these expressive works is a world-renowned film star ... or a person no one knows, she or he does not own history," the decision read.

The court was also very specific in its ruling about how the judgment should be taken.

"Nor does she or he have the legal right to control, dictate, approve, disapprove, or veto the creator's portrayal of actual people," it read.

Two Worlds Collide

FX attempted to have the lawsuit thrown out last summer, utilizing a California statute designed to cut down any lawsuits that may be orchestrated to impinge on free speech. However, a trial judge ruled that de Havilland had sufficient grounds to proceed.

Although the legendary actress had the Screen Actors Guild in her corner, the Motion Picture Association of America and Netflix filed an amicus brief in support of FX.

Murphy was ecstatic about the unanimous ruling in FX's favor.

"Today's victory gives all creators the breathing room necessary to continue to tell important historical stories inspired by true events," he said in a statement.

If the court had indeed ruled in de Havilland's favor, it would have set a dangerous precedent for other public figures, or anybody, to file lawsuits objecting to how they've been portrayed in fictional works.

The 101-year-old actress came to the fore during Hollywood's golden age. Olivia de Havilland received numerous awards including two Oscars over the course of her long-running career.

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