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Olivia de Havilland sues FX over unauthorized use of her identity in 'Feud: Bette and Joan'

It's "Feud: Olivia and FX."

On the eve of her 101st birthday, two-time Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland has announced she is suing FX and producer Ryan Murphy over the unauthorized use of her identity in "Feud: Bette and Joan," according to a statement released Friday morning.

The miniseries about the longtime rivalry between actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford featured Catherine Zeta-Jones as de Havilland — the "Gone With the Wind" star who was a confidant of Davis' and a commentator throughout the eight-episode show.

De Havilland, who resides in France and turns 101 on Saturday, filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against FX Networks, LLC and Ryan Murphy Productions "based on the unauthorized commercial use of Dame Olivia's name and identity in the FX hit series," according to her attorneys, Suzelle M. Smith and Don Howarth of Howarth & Smith, noting that all the other real-life players who are featured in the series are dead.

Catherine Zeta-Jones as actress Olivia de Havilland in FX's "Feud: Bette and Joan." (Kurt Iswarienko / FX)
Catherine Zeta-Jones as actress Olivia de Havilland in FX's "Feud: Bette and Joan." (Kurt Iswarienko / FX)

Speaking on a panel at the Television Critics Assn.'s winter press tour, Zeta-Jones was asked whether she had ever met de Havilland.

"No, I didn't, unfortunately. I was going to try and get to see her. I was in the south of France this last summer. Then, unfortunately, there was the horrible tragedy that happened there in Nice, so I didn't get the chance to," Zeta-Jones said in January.

"Miss de Havilland was not asked by FX for permission to use her name and identity and was not compensated for such use," her attorneys said in a statement to The Times. "Further, the FX 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."

The suit accuses FX and its partners of appropriating de Havilland's name and identity and placing her in "a false light to sensationalize the series and to promote their own businesses" while ignoring her interests entirely.

 (Damon Winter / Los Angeles Times)
(Damon Winter / Los Angeles Times)

"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," Smith said, asserting that, "FX was wrong to ignore Miss de Havilland and proceed without her permission for its own profit."

Her team plans to file a motion seeking an expedited trial date because of de Havilland's age.

De Havilland is no stranger to legal proceedings. In 1943, she filed a landmark lawsuit against Warner Bros. that resulted in the collapse of the binding long-term contract system and put the de Havilland Law on the books.

FX declined to comment on the lawsuit and Murphy's team did not immediately respond to The Times' request for comment Friday.

Update, 11:45 a.m.: This story has been updated to include FX's response.

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