Olivia de Havilland, 101, Gets Speedy Trial on Privacy Claims Against FX

Actress Olivia de Havilland receiving the 2008 National Medal of Arts from then-President George W. Bush. (James Kegley/NEA)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A California judge on Wednesday granted 101-year-old actress Dame Olivia de Havilland a speedy trial on her claims of invasion of privacy against the makers of the miniseries “Feud: Bette and Joan.”

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Holly Kendig ruled in favor of the “Gone With the Wind” actress and said the trial, expected to begin on Nov. 27, would last a little over a week.

“I can’t imagine not granting the motion based on the plaintiff being 101,” Kendig said.

The ruling is timely not just because of the two-time Oscar winner’s age. “Feud” has been nominated for 10 Primetime Emmy Awards, set for Sept. 17, with actresses Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange both nominated in the best actress category for a limited series. “Feud” is also up for best limited series and co-stars Alfred Molina, Stanley Tucci, Judy Davis and Jackie Hoffman netted supporting actor nods.

De Havilland, who turned 101 earlier this year, sued FX in June over Catherine Zeta-Jones’ portrayal of her in the pseudo-documentary series, which concerns the rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis while working on “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” in the early 1960s.

She attacked the show’s re-enactment of a purported interview at the 1963 Academy Awards in which she is shown gossiping about the relationship between Davis and Crawford, saying the interview it never took place. She also took issue with the show’s depiction of her calling her sister, actress Joan Fontaine, a “bitch.”

“FX defendants’ portrayal of Olivia de Havilland in ‘Feud’ creates the public impression that she was a hypocrite, selling gossip in order to promote herself at the Academy Awards. This did not happen and was false. There is no public interest to be protected by putting false statements into the mouth of a living person, using their name and identity for a false and unauthorized purpose, damaging their reputation,” she says in her complaint, filed June 30.

Even though “Feud” clearly falls into the pseudo-documentary genre, with all the artistic license that implies, de Havilland says FX cannot hide behind First Amendment protections.

Not surprisingly, FX disagrees. In an Aug. 29 motion to strike, the network said the actress’ claims are without merit.

“By alleging that ‘Feud’ casts her in a false light and violates her right of publicity, Olivia de Havilland’s meritless lawsuit seeks to impinge on defendants’ First Amendment right to create expressive works about matters of public interest,” the motion states.

The defendants’ attorney Robert Rotstein argued at the Wednesday morning hearing that the defense needs more time to secure experts for trial. He said that the defense could call a genre expert to discuss fake documentaries and another to rebut de Havilland’s damages expert, should one take the stand.

Waving off his concerns, Judge Kendig saw no reason to put off the trial to December when she said jurors would likely be inattentive due to the holiday season.

De Havilland resides in Paris, France, and was not present for the hearing. Her daughter Gisele Galante Chulack sat in the courtroom during proceedings after attorney Suzelle Smith introduced her to the court.


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