De Havilland, who lives in Paris, sued FX last June over what she contends is an unauthorized and inaccurate portrayal of her in miniseries Feud: Bette and Joan; in August, a state superior court judge turned down FX’s request to have the suit thrown out. FX appealed, and last week, respective attorneys for the 101-year-old actress and the cable channel appeared at a California Court of Appeal hearing to argue whether de Havilland’s lawsuit against producers of the miniseries can move forward.
On Monday, a California appeals court ruled that Havilland’s suit against the network “should have been tossed because it’s precluded by the First Amendment,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“Judge Holly Kendig found Feud is protected speech, but also that de Havilland showed a minimal probability of prevailing on the merits of her claims and she allowed the matter to proceed,” THR reports.
But days after a court hearing, “the 2nd Appellate District on Monday reversed Kendig’s order on the motion to strike, and directed the trial court to grant the motion and award defendants their attorney fees and costs,” THR reports. “The court found the First Amendment offers strong protections for creators — and it doesn’t matter whether the works are fiction, non-fiction, or some hybrid of the two.”
According to the publication, the “the court found the First Amendment offers strong protections for creators — and it doesn’t matter whether the works are fiction, non-fiction, or some hybrid of the two. Allowing Kendig’s decision to stand would have rendered actionable all works that accurately portray real people, according to the opinion. Thus, Kendig’s decision is reversed.”
Last week,Variety reported that de Havilland’s lawyer complained at the hearing that the actress is portrayed in the show as a hypocrite and gossip who spoke disparagingly of friends and acquaintances such as Joan Crawford, Bette Davis and her sister, Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine, who died in December 2013 at the age of 96.
The two had a famously difficult relationship. In 2016, de Havilland opened up to PEOPLE in honor of her 100th birthday, saying of Fontaine, “She was a brilliant person, very gifted and, alas, [had] an astigmatism in her perception of both people and situations, which could cause and did cause great distress in others. I was among those and eventually this brought about an estrangement between us which did not change in the last years of her life.”
A key issue in the lawsuit was the fact that de Havilland’s character (played in the series by Catherine Zeta-Jones) used the word “bitch” in reference to Fontaine, while de Havilland’s lawyer argued no record exists of de Havilland ever using the word, much less to identify Fontaine.
Last year, creator Ryan Murphy acknowledged in an interview with the THR that he did not contact de Havilland, the only living person who was depicted as a major character on the show, about Feud. Instead, he said her portrayal in the series (she was played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) was based on Murphy’s own research, including an interview he conducted with Davis shortly before her death in 1989.
“I didn’t write Olivia because I didn’t want to be disrespectful and ask her, ‘Did this happen? Did that happen? What was your take on that?’ ” he said. “I didn’t want to intrude.”