Gone With The Wind – de Havilland loses legal battle

May 2020

IMAGE RIGHT: The US Supreme Court has decided not accept the law the suit brought by actress Olivia de Havilland against the makers of the FX series “Feud“. “Feud” is a TV dramatisation of the real-life rivalry between actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. In the miniseries, de Havilland (now 102) is played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and is a supporting character. De Havilland’s attorney argued that she is incorrectly portrayed as a hypocrite and gossip who spoke casually and disparagingly of friends and acquaintances such as Davis, Crawford, Frank Sinatra, and her own sister, Joan Fontaine.

The Gone With The Wind and Captain Blood star’s suit was initially allowed to proceed by a Los Angeles judge, but a California appellate court reversed that decision in March 2018. The California Supreme Court had previously declined to take up the case prior to the application the U.S. Supreme Court. The 2nd District Court of Appeal said in a unanimous decision that the First Amendment rights of the show’s creators clearly trumped de Havilland’s claims that permission to use her likeness was needed, and she should have been compensated

In the appellate court Justice Anne Egerton wrote “Whether a person portrayed in one of these expressive works is a world-renowned film star — ‘a living legend’ — or a person no one knows, she or he does not own history …. Nor does she or he have the legal right to control, dictate, approve, disapprove, or veto the creator’s portrayal of actual people.”

The judges agreed that the logic behind de Havilland’s suit, who won two Oscars in a glittering career,  would make legal action possible against “all books, films, plays and television programs that accurately portray real people

“We and Miss de Havilland are disappointed that the US 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,” de Havilland’s attorneys said in a statement. “The California Court of Appeal has turned the First Amendment upside down and without doubt more harm to individuals and public deception will result. One day someone else who is wronged for the sake of Hollywood profits will have the courage to stand on the shoulders of Miss de Havilland and fight for the right to defend a good name and legacy against intentional, unconsented exploitation and falsehoods. Miss de Havilland hopes she will live to see the day when such justice is done.”

Charles Rivkin, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) said “The MPAA is pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the De Havilland v. FX Networks case, putting an end to this litigation and leaving in place the excellent opinion by the California Court of Appeal …. This is great news for filmmakers and other creators, whose First Amendment right to tell stories that depict real people and events was resoundingly reaffirmed by the Court of Appeal, and for audiences everywhere who enjoy a good biopic, documentary, docudrama, or work of historical fiction.”

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