The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to consider reviving a lawsuit by 102-year-old Oscar-winning actress Olivia de Havilland accusing a Twenty-First Century Fox Inc unit of falsely portraying her in a miniseries about a famous Hollywood feud.
The justices let stand a lower court ruling throwing out the lawsuit filed by de Havilland, a Hollywood star whose career began in the 1930s. She had claimed that “Feud: Bette and Joan,” a FX Networks miniseries about the long-running hostility between de Havilland’s fellow screen legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford damaged her reputation by portraying her as a gossip and hypocrite.
De Havilland’s lawyers said in a statement that she was “very disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court passed on this opportunity to confirm that the First Amendment does not protect the publication of intentional lies in any medium, including so-called docudramas.”
“Feud,” which aired in 2017, explored the bad blood between Crawford and Davis in the later years of their lives. The miniseries was created by producer Ryan Murphy, known for the series “American Horror Story” and “Glee.”
In February 2018, Murphy agreed to create exclusive series and films for Netflix Inc as part of a five-year deal expected to be worth up to $300 million.
De Havilland was portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Feud,” which starred Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford and Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis. De Havilland objected to scenes in which she was portrayed as using a vulgar term to refer to her sister, actress Joan Fontaine, and joking about Frank Sinatra’s drinking.
A state appeals court in California threw out the case in March 2018, ruling that allowing the litigation to proceed would interfere with the rights of authors and filmmakers to make creative works that dramatize historical events.
The court found that the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech protected the show’s creators from her claims that “Feud” portrayed her in a “false light” and used her likeness without her permission. The court also said the portrayal of de Havilland was overwhelmingly positive.
De Havilland, known for films including “Gone With the Wind” (1939) and “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938), won best actress Oscars for the 1949 film “The Heiress” and the 1946 film “To Each His Own” in a career spanning 50 movies. De Havilland moved to Paris in the 1950s and has made rare public appearances since retiring.
Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Will Dunham