Olivia de Havilland, 101, sues FX and Ryan Murphy over Feud

Isn’t at least slightly ironic that the producer and network who brought us the series Feud are now embroiled in a legal battle with a Hollywood legend? Olivia De Haviland, who was portrayed by Catherine Zeta Jones in the spectacular FX series Feud: Bette and Joan, is suing the show’s creator, Ryan Murphy (well, actually his production company) as well as FX. Her lawsuit accuses the series of “misappropriating” her identity without permission and presenting an “inaccurate” picture of her.

Lawyers for the actress, who lives in Paris and just turned 101 on Saturday, filed the suit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday. The complaint alleges that the production misappropriated her “name, likeness and identity without her permission and used them falsely in order to exploit their own commercial interests.” The complaint also claims that the show’s “pseudo-documentary-style,” where Catherine-as-Olivia was interviewed prior to the 1978 Oscars (an interview that never really took place), lead the viewers to believe that her character’s lines were accurate.

Suzelle Smith, a representative of Olivia’s legal team, said in a statement that “A living celebrity has the right to protect her name and identity from unauthorized, false, commercial exploitation under both common law and the specific ‘right to publicity’ statute in California. FX was wrong to ignore Miss de Havilland and proceed without her permission for its own profit.”

In addition, the statement asserts that “Miss de Havilland was not asked by FX for permission to use her name and identity and was not compensated for such use.” As for the script, it was filled with words that were, at the suit alleges, “inaccurate and contrary to the reputation [Olivia] 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.”

The detailed suit even calls out Catherine’s hair, makeup and wardrobe as part of the misappropriation of Olivia’s image on Feud. The statement from the lawyers pointed out that, “Her black gown, capped with sheer sleeves, is exactly the same. Her diamond necklace, hanging from a black cord, is copied, as are her dangling earrings. Even her hair, which was coiffed out at the back for the ceremony in real life, has been replicated with precision.” The lawyers even pointed out that Catherine wore a prosthetic appliance on her chin to look more like Olivia. The lawyers hope to get the case expedited, due to the fact that their client is of an advanced age. FX and Ryan Murphy have yet to respond to the suit.

Back in April, the legendary actress, responding to a question from The Hollywood Reporter, said of the series “Having not seen the show, I cannot make a valid comment about it. However, in principle, I am opposed to any representation of personages who are no longer alive to judge the accuracy of any incident depicted as involving themselves.” After hearing Olivia’s response, Ryan told E! News that “She is forever a lady,” adding “she’s amazing and everything that she says and does should be treasured. I loved what she said.” (I wonder if he feels the same way now.)

On the one hand, I kind of get this legal action. Olivia is the last living of the central characters in Feud, and is really the only one who can fight back against any misrepresentation. I don’t think Catherine Zeta Jones’ performance showed the real-life Olivia in a bad light at all, in fact, she came off quite charming. I wonder if this is Olivia’s not-so-subtle way to scare Ryan off from telling the story of the contentious relationship she had with her sister, Joan Fontaine, for a future episode of Feud.

'Feud: Bette and Joan' NYC event - Arrivals

Photos: Getty Images, WENN.com

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40 Responses to “Olivia de Havilland, 101, sues FX and Ryan Murphy over Feud”

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  1. slowsnow says:

    Funnily enough Scarlett Johansson partially won a lawsuit against a French writer, Grégoire Delacourt, who wrote a novel about a character who looked like her (that was the plot) and thus had her life destroyed by people’s expectations about her.
    (It sounds like a bad idea for a novel one has during a bout of insomnia.)
    Johansson got 3.400$ for defamation but not the whole 68.000$ she expected for exploitation of her name and persona.

  2. Lolo86lf says:

    I do wonder if Ms. Davis and Ms. Crawford would sue FX and Murphy as well if they were alive. You never do an unauthorized biography unless all characters are dead. It is quite likely Ms. de Havilland will win in court.

  3. Jamie42 says:

    I actually sympathize with her point–but as noted above, Catherine Zeta-Jones was beautiful and thoroughly charming in the role. I would bet that the suspicion that she wants to head off a show about herself and her sister is probably accurate.

    • LAK says:

      Sympathetic or not, that is not the point at all.

      No one is allowed to use your name and likeness without your permission. The law is very clear on that.

      And very shoddy due diligence on Ryan Murphy’s part for going ahead with this portrayal without getting a release first.

      • Sixer says:

        My thoughts precisely.

        Not sure I really see that huge harm has been done by this generally sympathetic piece but that is not the point. It’s not my place to say and that’s why we have laws about it. I can’t believe Murphy was so remiss.

      • Lena says:

        Not for biopics, no. They are fair game (as are biographies) which why there are both authorized and non-authorized biographies. though you can sue for libel or defamniation or breach of privacy but then there needs to be something that is libel or defamination or breach of privacy and I doubt that mrs de Havilland can argue that feud was defaminatory, libelous or breach of privacy to her. Especially since public figures have a higher threshold to claim defamination.

      • Radley says:

        Well if that’s the standard, then why hasn’t every living person depicted in a bio-pic sued? Jada Pinkett-Smith recently took exception with All Eyes on Me but she didn’t call a lawyer.

        I think Ms. Olivia, in true old Hollywood fashion, is just protecting her legacy. And yep, she does not want the Joan and Olivia story told anytime soon.

        They had a stage mother who pitted them against each other. Olivia broke Joan’s collarbone but they each told wildly different accounts of how it happened. Joan said it was a teenage beatdown. Olivia actually claimed it was Joan’s fault and they were only 5 and 6. Wild. Joan was generally considered prettier but the lesser actress. Joan married a dude that dated and probably slept with Olivia first. Their story is scandalous. Olivia wants to take that mess to the grave. I understand.

        To sum up, this is more about scaring Hollywood away from that story than about the Bette and Joan show. She’s still very sharp. She knows what she’s doing.

      • LAK says:

        If i recall, Jada was OK with the project until she saw the final result. The actress who played her reached out to Jada for pointers which Jada gave. That speaks to consent.

        There are lawsuits all the time. Most people assume that you can’t sue or it’s not worth their time to sue, but for someone whose livelihood, even if retired, is dependant on their likeness, you have to tread very, very carefully.

      • Karen says:

        Ryan always said he didn’t contact anyone and it was a fictionalized account of true events. Unauthorized biopic. He didn’t state it was a verbatim retelling of events.

        She can sue but shed have to prove damages. Which how? as her character really was just talking about other characters and barely about herself. Then entire courtroom for the OJ Simpson trial could also sue as their names and likeness were used, every Lifetime movie would be a lawsuit. They’d never make these movies if the risk of losing a lawsuit was that high.

      • Ramona says:

        Jada had no idea about the script as made clear by her grievances. She was never consulted by producers and in fact their excuse is that they claim a “mutual friend” said he would fill her in. And no, giving a young actress acting advise is not consenting whatever depiction the director then chooses.

        Anyway, Olivia famously has a labor law related court ruling named after her when she went to war with Warner Bros and won. In the 1940s no less. Ryan should have known to consult the one living subject of his terrible show. Which incidentally was his other crime, he took fantastic Hollywood lore and made an already forgotten mediocre show.

      • Talie says:

        Not sure what the laws are everywhere, but in America it is perfectly acceptable to not get permission for any kind of biography project of a public person. In fact, it’s very standard. Plus, this show was “inspired by” events, which gives them even more cover legally.

      • Megan says:

        I’m sure the studio did their homework. Olivia can file a lawsuit, but that doesn’t mean she has legal grounds. It will interesting to see if the court takes her case.

    • Tanguerita says:

      However, I rather doubt that Murphy would even consider making a show about Havilland and her sister. What for? Great feuds a dime a dozen and they are not contained to Hollywood.

    • Bachelorpod says:

      De Havilland’s a battleaxe who’ll take Murphy to the cleaners!

  4. greenmonster says:

    “…specifically refusing to engage in gossip mongering about other actors in order to generate media attention for herself.” Some of todays celebrities read this and think “What? I don’t understand those words.”

  5. Nancy says:

    Happy Birthday Miss De Havilland. Even her name is regal. I hope she wins her battle, and it is of her own accord and not her people pushing it. I would think the cast, in particular, the always combative Susan Sarandan appreciates the rights and feelings of one of the few Hollywood legends still alive who doesn’t want her name attached to any fallacies of her life. Team Olivia all the way.

  6. RBC says:

    Olivia is a classy lady from what I have read and has not gossiped about her fellow actors over the years. But a part of me would love to hear some of her stories about working with actors like Bette and Joan, Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh and others from the Golden Age of Hollywood. I bet she would have some great tea to spill!

    • Mia4s says:

      Don’t forget Howard Hughes, John Huston, and whatever the heck went on with her and Errol Flynn!! She knows all the stories but is not the kind of person who will tell them. I respect that…even though I really want to hear them! 😏

      Settle. Add a disclaimer. Move on. It’s the classy thing to do Mr. Murphy.

  7. lightpurple says:

    Happy Birthday, Olivia!

    Don’t mess with Miss Melanie!

  8. Jerusha says:

    Don’t mess with Olivia! She is one classy, but tough lady. One of the last survivors of the Golden Age. She and Errol F. had such chemistry, love their movies.

  9. Laika says:

    Related topic, I was always surprised that Orlando Bloom didn’t sue the ever loving shit out of Francesca Lia Block for publishing a novel that was essentially fanfiction centering on a carbon copy of him.

    • Mel says:

      If it’s a “carbon copy” but does not bear his name, there is nothing he can do. (And rightly so.)

  10. Magnoliarose says:

    I wonder if this is more about the producers not consulting her or at least giving her the respect she certainly deserves. They behaved poorly especially since the series showed how legendary actresses were tossed aside as they aged. It is exactly what they did to her.
    I don’t think her case is strong considering she wasn’t portrayed in a negative light and they never used her likeness or any other licensed material. It is not easy for a public figure to win a case like this even sometimes when defamation is involved.
    Either way they deserve some sort of rebuke for shoddy behavior.

    • Marianne says:

      Plus, she doesnt act anymore so its not like she’s arguing that this show is keeping her from booking roles or whatever.

  11. Mel says:

    I was waiting for something like this to happen. I thought it was exceedingly bizarre to include invented “narration” by a real-life actress – and one that is still alive, to boot! Not only that, but one that has always been famously discreet in her public statements.
    Furthermore, I have to question whether it was really as random as it looks. Were they secretly counting on the public’s association with another “feud” – her own with her sister Joan?
    (Because such comments really appeared all over internet forums.)

    As an aside, as “charming” as CZJ was, she sounded nothing like Olivia who is famous for her enunciation and voice.

  12. tracking says:

    Oh yes, please let there be a “Feud” that centers on one between the two sisters. That would be glorious.

  13. TomatoGirl says:

    Nah, she just wants to make an bit of money for herself in her platinum years and her family/estate. And good for her!

  14. Veronica says:

    At that age, where does she find the energy for a legal battle. I barely dragged myself out of bed today, and I’ve got a four day weekend.

  15. Merritt says:

    I think Olivia was giving a warning shot about not wanting there to be a show about herself and her late sister.

  16. Christin says:

    This isn’t her first legal battle within the entertainment industry. A California labor law informally bears her name, after a 1940s legal fight with a major studio.

    This time, she’ll likely receive a settlement and strike some fear into anyone considering a bio-pic of the sisters’ decades-long estrangement.

  17. Giulia says:

    Take ‘em to school, Miss de Havilland!

  18. Chinoiserie says:

    She did not sue until the Emmy voting ended so I wonder if she did that on purpose not to sabotage the awards changes or if it’s just a concidence.

    Anyway I think she might be a bit bitcher than her image but still classy if that makes sense. Happy Birthday to her and great she is still around and apparently in good health too.

  19. Pollydentenress says:

    It’s about time someone called out Ryan Murphy! It always bugs me when he incorporates real life people in AHS but those people were long dead and can no longer do anything about it. At least that was fiction, Feud is supposedly a true story. The whole interview framing device was really stupid. She’s a public figure though so I don’t know about the whole appropriating of one’s image thing stands but they clearly fictionalized so many elements and misrepresented facts.

  20. amilu says:

    I would so totally tune into a show about the Joan/Olivia relationship. I didn’t watch Feud because I find Ryan Murphy (and his shows) exhausting.

  21. Carolina says:

    She has no damages she can prove.

  22. Susan Ewart says:

    I’ve read some of these remarks. How do some of these posters conclude that Olivia de Havilland was portrayed “sympathetically” when what FX did was depict Miss de Havilland giving an interview that she never gave and one of a sort that she never would have given. Olivia de Havilland was more adept than other in Hollywood at side-stepping the gossip and tabloid press. As I am not of her generation, I cannot say precisely how she managed this, but it appears to be the result of Miss de Havilland granting very few interviews during her career–even now only coming forward to record some reminiscences about her own life and career (not others’) for archive after turning 100. Catharine Zeta Jones seems to have done no preparation for this role, as she plays de Havilland as though de Havilland spoke like some cheap breathy ingenue. I wondered how the producers managed to involve Miss de Havilland in this cheap FX piece. Having learned now how the piece is set up, I have to agree with de Havilland’s lawyers that Miss de Havilland’s reputation for credibility and integrity was abused by the producers in an attempts to give a wash to their production. It left Miss de Havilland’s image and reputation wearing a dirt she never by her own actions or words ever acquired. If she doesn’t prevail in this case, then it will be possible to prop up anyone’s name and image and have absolutely any rubbish spoken as though their own words.

    • Susan Ewart says:

      I would add to my comment that:

      As to using the B word to refer to her own sister, that is something any preparation by Ms. Zeta-Jones would have discovered would never have happened. After decades of being prodded by the gossip media to discuss her differences with her sister, Joan, at age 100, Olivia de Havilland simply made a single videotaped statement in which she stated that attacks had been initiated by her sister and that de Havilland had defended herself in these instances but had never initiated an attack on her sister. In other words, she hosed down the mud slung her way by a disgruntled sister, but she did not sling mud. In the same video-taped interview Miss de Havilland said that in the privacy of friends and family she some times referred to her sister as “the dragon lady”–never the B word. Miss de Havilland still has one very popular book on the market, “Every Frenchman Has One”. He autobiography is a work currently in progress by her own hand. Who’s going to want to read it if they think it’s about the character Catharine Zeta-Jones created? I wondered how the producers managed to involve Miss de Havilland in this cheap FX piece. She and Bette Davis were known to be straight dealing and straight talking. This may have been the basis of their friendship. But this hardly deeply involved Olivia de Havilland in Ms. Davis’ professional dust ups.