Axe de Havilland Feud damages suit because show is dramatisation, FX tells judge
Dame Olivia’s lawyers say she is entitled to compensation for damage to her reputation built over “100 years as a celebrity”.
Dame Olivia de Havilland’s claim that the show Feud: Bette And Joan falsely portrayed her in a damaging light should be dismissed because it is a dramatised portrayal and not a documentary, a court has heard.
The 101-year-old double Oscar-winner sued FX Network over the docudrama, claiming it defamed her by incorrectly portraying her as a gossip and breached her right to privacy.
Dame Olivia claims her portrayal by Catherine Zeta-Jones was inaccurate for showing her calling her sister Joan Fontaine a “bitch” and commenting on Frank Sinatra’s drinking habits.
The network, in court in Los Angeles on Tuesday, appealed an earlier decision not to throw out the case, saying the genre can use creative licence to update her words for a “contemporary audience”.
Kelly Klaus, representing FX, said the British-America movie veteran may not have called her sibling a bitch, but did call her a “dragon lady” in an interview on her 100th birthday.
“Docudramas are understood not to be a literal retelling of history, that’s the role of documentaries,” he said.
Rejecting this would create an “incredibly dangerous” standard, Mr Klaus added.
Dame Olivia’s lawyer, Suzelle Smith, argued that dragon lady and bitch are not synonymous or equivalent in offensiveness.
“In my household, if you use the word bitch, you get your mouth washed out,” she said.
Olivia de Havilland has built a reputation of 100 years as a celebrity and she should get compensation for that Dame Olivia's lawyer Suzelle Smith
Ms Smith argued the show wrongly portrayed the Paris-based star as a hypocrite and a gossip who used vulgar terms.
“Olivia de Havilland has built a reputation of 100 years as a celebrity and she should get compensation for that,” she added.
Ms Smith also thanked the judges for seeing to the matter so quickly because of the Gone With The Wind actress’s age.
The star’s team also claims she was not consulted over the show, which focuses on the rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, nor was she asked for permission for her to be depicted.
Lawyers for FX said the earlier ruling that the case should proceed is damaging for freedom of speech and could hamper creativity.
“Such a change inevitably would stifle the creativity of future Hemingways, Spielbergs, and Twains, with the nation’s literary discourse all the poorer for it,” they wrote in the lawsuit.
This is not the first time a major Hollywood company has been taken on by Dame Olivia, who won Oscars for 1946’s To Each His Own and 1949’s The Heiress.
She won a landmark victory over Warner Bros in 1943 which effectively ended actors’ contract servitude.
Dame Olivia is demanding damages from the network and for a permanent injunction preventing the show’s broadcast.
The Californian appeal court was sitting was at University of Southern California’s law school so the room-full of students could learn from the procedure.
Judges have 90 days to decide whether to overturn the previously ruling and dismiss the case.