Olivia de Havilland Isn’t Having It

De Havilland was honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960

Dame Olivia de Havilland turned 101 July 1 and along with the celebrations of her life and her career on screen, news surfaced that she is suing FX and Ryan Murphy over the miniseries Feud: Bette and Joan. 

The miniseries depicts the infamous “feud” between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, two both popular film stars in the mid-1900s. 

Olivia de Havilland is also portrayed in the series, which promises to be a nostalgic look at Old Hollywood with numerous recognizable names being dropped throughout. Havilland has earned two Oscar wins and successfully sued Warner brothers in 1943, bringing an end the long-term contract system that chained many actors to a single production company and allowed the companies to control almost every aspect of the aritsts’ lives.R

Reportedly De Havilland’s character in the miniseries, performed by Catherine Zeta Jones, is used to commentate on the famed feud, the women behind it and the goings on in greater Hollywood. 

De Havilland filed her lawsuit with the Los Angeles Superior Court from her home in France. She alleges that FX did not gain her permission for utilizing her name or identity, nor did they compensate her for such. Additionally, the suit claims that the series “puts words in the mouth of Miss de Havilland which are inaccurate and contrary to the reputation she has built over an 80-year professional life, specifically refusing to engage in gossip mongering about other actors in order to generate media attention for herself.” 

De Havilland is reportedly the only living person featured in the series and the actress insists that the story being told is based purely on gossip and does not reflect reality. 

Her legal team is filing for an expedited trial, citing her age. 

This is the latest in a life that has been extraordinary to say the least. 

De Havilland was born in Tokyo and her parents were British. She got her start, as many do, in the theater and starred in 49 feature films during her 53-year acting career. 

She dated Howard Hughes in 1938, when he had just gotten back from a record-setting 91-hour flight around the world; he taught her how to fly. She dated James Stewart briefly, who continued her flying lessons. 

Raised Episcopalian, she became one of the first women lectors at the American Cathedral in Paris. She also campaigned for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s reelection and was a member of the Independent Citizens’ Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions, though she resisted what she considered to be a small minority’s efforts to make that group a communist advocacy group. She attempted to reform it from its Communist leanings and when that failed resigned from the committee, inspiring at least 11 others to resign, including Ronald Reagan, the future Republican president. 

De Havilland has been knighted in France, by former French President Sarkozy and has recently been appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to drama in honor of her 101 birthday just this month. She called the award “the most gratifying of birthday presents.”

In her lawsuit against the miniseries, it appears that she is specifically contentious toward the opening sequence in the first episode where Zeta-Jones, as De Havilland, iplaanswers questions in an interview, a portrayal which casts De Havilland as a hypocrite who gossiped to promote her career. The suit states that the portrayal is both false because they completely contradict De Havilland’s character and because the statements made in the “interview” were never actually said at all. 

Despite a public and ongoing strain on her relationship with her famous sister, Joan Fontaine (both were nominated for Oscars in the same category in the same year), De Havilland reportedly objects to her character in the series referring to Fontaine as her “bitch-sister.” This contrasts with De Havilland’s public behavior in regards to the relationship, which appears to have matched her similar restraint when it came to gossiping and the like. De Havilland’s lawyer stated that the portrayal “stands in stark contrast with Olivia de Havilland’s reputation for good manners, class and kindness.” 

Ryan Murphy has previously admitted that he did not consult De Havilland because he didn’t want to “bother” her; one of the main points the suit claims is that De Havilland, the only living person depicted in the series, was not consulted on the story, dialogue, or portrayal of a real time involving real people. 

De Havilland and her lawyers argue that the producers of Feud knowingly used De Havilland for the role in the miniseries because of her public reputation as a non-gossip, claiming that they hoped to profit off of the drama caused by such a contradiction. 

The suit is being brought under the common law right of publicity, invasion of privacy and unjust enrichment. She is both seeking a share of the profits, damages for inflammation of her character and an injunction to prevent the series from utilizing her name at all. 

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