Olivia de Havilland Sues FX, Ryan Murphy Over ‘Feud’ Portrayal

Olivia de Havilland
Camus/AP/REX/Shutterstock

On the eve of her 101st birthday, Olivia de Havilland is serving FX with a gift of her own — a lawsuit.

The actress is suing the network, along with Ryan Murphy Productions, over her portrayal in “Feud,” saying that it paints her in a false light, according to court documents obtained by Variety. The lawsuit claims that “Feud” “puts words in the mouth of Miss de Havilland which are inaccurate and contrary to the reputation she has built.”

Catherine Zeta-Jones portrayed de Havilland in the anthology series. The lawsuit argues that de Havilland has built a reputation of integrity for herself, and refrains from gossip. The series, however, paints an opposing picture.

While de Havilland remains the only person alive who experienced the events surrounding the titular feud — Bette Davis and Joan Crawford died in 1989 and 1977, respectively — the suit says that no one consulted her for the series. The documents point to the opening scene of the series, which depicts an interview with de Havilland where she gossips about Davis and Crawford, noting that FX “promoted and advertised that ‘Feud’ was intentionally designed to look as if it was reality.”

“In fact, all statement made by Zeta-Jones as Olivia de Havilland in this fake interview are completely false, some inherently so; others false because they were never said. Such an interview never occurred,” reads the suit, accusing the production of putting “false words” into de Havilland’s mouth.

It also points to “Feud’s” portrayal of de Havilland’s relationship with her sister, Joan Fontaine, “again demeaning her reputation for being a lady in the face of unfair and untrue personal attacks.”

“For example, in the fifth segment of ‘Feud,’ ‘And the Winner Is… (The Oscars of 1963),’ Zeta-Jones’ Havilland refers to Joan Fontaine as her ‘bitch sister,’ an offensive term that stands in stark contrast with Olivia de Havilland’s reputation for good manners, class, and kindess,” it says, maintaining that the actress “did not, and does not, engage in such vulgarity.”

She is suing for common law right of publicity, statutory right of publicity, unjust enrichment, and invasion of privacy. In addition to emotional distress damages, she is seeking profits gained by FX for the use of her likeness, and for a permanent injunction barring FX from continuing to use her likeness.

FX had no comment. Variety has reached out to reps for Murphy and Zeta-Jones along with the studio.

See the full lawsuit below.

De Havilland “Feud” suit by gmaddaus on Scribd

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  1. Colonel Jack Warner says:

    Murphy and FX, you don’t know Olivia. You will, now!

  2. Martin P. says:

    What was so terrible about DeHavilland’s portrayal in Feud? If anything, it made her seem more human than the goody two-shoes she likes to pretend she is. I know someone who did her make-up for an appearance and let’s just say that “bitch sister” would’ve been a mild term used.

    • tirebiter says:

      “I know someone…”

      Are you sure you really don’t just know someone who knew someone else whose 2nd cousin overheard in an elevator…? This is the worst kind of gossip mongering.

      Even if this was your personal experience and it really did happen, how do you sum up the whole life of a person from an hour in a make-up chair? Is it possible that Ms. DeHavilland might have been having a very bad day? Ever have one of those? Do you think the people who saw you for the first time when you were at your worst, and never saw you again recall you as a ray of sunshine?

    • Leonard says:

      “I know someone who did her make-up for an appearance…” Yeah, sure ;-)

      And some people don’t need to be vulgar to appear “more human”.

      Nothing wrong with being a “goody two-shoes”.

      • tirebiter says:

        It’s a “damned if you do/don’t” situation. People refuse to believe that some people might actually be nice and keep an ethical code they set for themselves. But they’re just waiting for the crack to appear so they can attack them for being the person they hoped they were.

  3. Deborah Deese OConner says:

    Good! Miss Dehaviland is a gracious, precious, soft spoken CLASSY LADY! Most people today don’t even know what any of those words mean.
    .

  4. A Fan says:

    I think Miss De Havilland has a valid point. While I enjoyed the “Feud” miniseries for the most part, I find it odd that no one involved in the production thought to contact this great star (the only principal still living) for her blessing and/or her keen insight. Did Murphy or his writers think she was senile and so wasn’t worth the time or effort to do so? Bad form. Miss De Havilland has always been, and always will be, a class act. Mr. Murphy, you owe this great lady an apology.

    Happy Birthday, Olivia! We love you.

  5. Mia says:

    It is great that in this case someone still alive being portrayed can stand up for themselves. I think these shows purporting to portray real people and events should carry a disclaimer they are taking artistic license for entertainment purposes and basically soap operafying the subjects lives. Usually they write a lot of fiction designed to spice things up loosely constructed around real people and events. Then people think they are watching something accurate when they aren’t. Anyone who thinks Olivia de Haviland is a crass attention or money seeker is not basing it on any evidence I know of. She has lead a quiet and dignified life and other than career never engaged in sensationalistic attention seeking. She has always conducted herself with restraint and class.

    • James says:

      Totally agree. It’s very hard for an audience to know ‘what happened and what not’ anyway, but it’s even more difficult, when the filmmakers, distributors and networks always use this ‘true story’, ‘based on real events’ slogan and label to sell their dirty product. They are deceiving people and help spreading lies sometimes. To avoid this, there should be stricter rules, including a disclaimer AT THE BEGINNING of a movie, not at the end, that what you see is 90% lies mixed with 10% facts. Then the potential audience knows if it really wants to buy this ‘juice’ :-)

  6. Bobbi Novak says:

    The casting of this show was awful. Sarandon & Lange were both too old to portray Crawford & Davis in the time frame. The only casting that was good was Kathy Bates as Joan Blondell.
    When they do Lady Diana I hope they remember that she was only 36 when she died & cast some one
    Young enough for the role.
    Vive Olivia de Haviland!

  7. Rigs-in-Gear says:

    How cute, even at 101, little miss-butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth is trying to drum up publicity for herself. She must have a memoir set to publish.

    • Doug says:

      You know what would be a good title for her memoir? OLIVIA: THE FIRST HUNDRED YEARS.

    • Sam says:

      My thoughts exactly after stating she didn’t want to comment and would not see it.

      April 22, 2017 from People magazine: “Having not seen the show, I cannot make a valid comment about it,” de Havilland wrote. “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.”
      “As to the 1963 Oscar ceremony, which took place over half a century ago, I regret to say that I have no memory of it whatsoever and therefore cannot vouch for its accuracy,” she added.

      I saw the series. If she wants sue someone, it should be actress Zeta-Jones. He performance was not great. Even the actress who played Davis’ daughter (Sally Draper from “Mad Men”) and Kathy Bates were way better.

  8. Kay Shkorn says:

    Hollywood has no talent. It used to have great talent — and now one of them is defying the grave to get back at these slime balls.

  9. Ellen says:

    Good for her! I stopped watching halfway through the first episode

  10. Carl says:

    To all the defenders of ‘artistic freedom’ who think that Olivia is making too much drama about this,
    I would like to point at some nasty cases, where the writers totally distorted the reality and seriously damaged the reputation of people:

    “Rescue Dawn” (2006):

    Werner Herzog’s well-liked POW drama made a villain (played by Jeremy Davis) out of a real-life hero (Gene DeBruin) – and didn’t change the characters’ name.

    Can you imagine how painful it must be for a family to not only have lost a family member in the war, but then to see that happen to him?

    “Jerry DeBruin, brother of Gene DeBruin, created a website critical of Herzog and the film, claiming that several characters and events have been falsely portrayed. On the same website, Pisidhi Indradat, the other survivor of the group, has also stated that the film contains inaccuracies. The website claims that during his imprisonment, DeBruin taught his cellmates English, shared his food, and even returned after escaping to help an injured cellmate. In the film, Dengler formulates the entire escape plan, along with uncuffing the handcuffs with the nail. According to Jerry DeBruin, the prisoners waited for two weeks before telling him of the plan, which had been devised before his arrival. [Wikipedia]

    Why did Herzog – who sold the movie as a ‘true story’ of course – do such a nasty thing?

    Because he thought he needed another villain for his story and only ONE hero, not two.
    A second hero would have taken away from ‘his hero’ Dieter Dengler.

    That’s the crazy thinking that goes into these distortions and lies.

    I’m convinced it would have been a much better story and movie if they respected the facts,
    but, no, he did it his way.

    And traumatized a whole family.

    “Foxcatcher” (2014)

    This was sold – of course – as a ‘true story’, but Bennett Miller changed a lot of the important events
    to make a more coherent story out of events that unfolded over decades.

    Mark Schultz’ brother David was shot by the crazy John du Pont, who probably was a repressed homosexual among other things.

    Wrestling champion Mark Schultz not only had to suffer the trauma of losing his brother to a gun-crazy psycho, but he had to see how Bennett Miller represented his character on screen:

    Bennett Miller basically made him into a borderline homosexual wrestler, who maybe had a thing with John du Pont – yes, the man who killed his brother.

    Mark Schultz is straight and was very offended by the ‘gay subtext’.

    Why did Miller do that ?

    Because there was a Bulgarian wrestler, who probably was really in some kind of relationship with John du Pont – but not Mark Schultz.

    Miller merged the Bulgarian character and Mark Schultz’ character to create a ‘more interesting’ central character.

    Miller did all of this while he was friendly with Mark Schultz – without telling him his true intentions.

    When “Foxcatcher” was shown to audiences, Schultz became painfully aware, that Miller had tricked him, because the character on screen had nothing to do with him.

    But they still expected him to help advertise the movie.

    Can you even imagine how traumatic these ridiculous events around “Foxcatcher” and Miller’s ‘creative liberties’ must have been for Mark Schultz ?

    THERE ARE MANY, MANY MORE EXAMPLES….

    ‘Based on a true story’ is a dirty business.

    • KB says:

      Agreed. Look at Turn: Washington’s Spies. The character of Simcoe on the show is a vile, twisted, heartless bastard. In real life, he was nothing like that. He was actually very well loved. These directors or whoever is in charge, twist certain things, in order to get people to watch regardless of how true it is. It’s all about the ratings. That’s all it is. What makes the most of the almighty dollar ? The lying and misportrayal. Just like the Jerry Springer show. A lot of it isn’t true, but it creates viewers, which turn into ratings, which in turn causes the big dollars to come in. That’s all it is.

  11. Bette Davis’ daughter, portrayed in Feud over many episodes. is very much still living, although apparently neither the Davis or Crawford estates were asked to participate. But if none of the people portrayed in the successful OJ miniseries–and far more of them are still living–are complaining Murphy damaged their legacies beyond repair, good luck to De Havilland. No reasonable person would watch Feud and think it was meant to be reality.

  12. Aria says:

    If she’s still alive then she certainly deserves compensation. It’s horrid to think they didn’t even ask her. That said, I love this show, and I hope it goes on. I did not take the depictions as absolutely true, and the show was so entertaining and so much more well done that most of what’s on television. AT 101 I would be thrilled to have my name and fame remembered. It’s so sad that they misrepresented her. If she was that decent she deserves not to be portrayed the way she was.

  13. Wallace says:

    Any script based on a true story has to be annotated by the writer, where they cite their source for every scene, and is then vetted and approved by the network/studio attorneys. As soon as the lawyers found out that opening interview scene never happened, they likely told Ryan to cut it. He didn’t, so they brought this upon themselves. Good for you Mrs. D., go get ’em.

  14. Rick says:

    Omg what idiots.
    Why not just use other names with a madeup story.
    Let’s slander……the media gets away with it.

  15. AllWiledUp says:

    Good for her.

  16. roland sun says:

    This formidable lady fought the old Hollywood studio system and won (see DeHavilland Law). I would not assume this lawsuit is the work of greedy lawyers or her family. Maybe she will also be remembered for ensuring that Hollywood is held accountable for the veracity of the material they use for biographical “dramatizations”. I am sure Michael Jackson’s family and Whitney Houston’s family will be following this with some interest. Although this specific instance may seem trivial, Hollywood all too often distorts and redefines a person’s life and legacy for profit. Go Olivia!

  17. Paul says:

    ‘Feud’ is a drama, not a documentary. And therefore it’s no surprise that scenes and dialogue are not real life copies, but based on anything the writer wants them to be. How can any drama be ‘accurate’ by that very nature? How can any drama tell a lie or a ‘false representation’, unless it’s a documentary? Utter nonsense.

    • Heather says:

      Paul, everybody tolerates some liberties, but it can be very cruel and damaging to a living person’s reputation, when he or she is made to look like someone she or he wasn’t.

      There are many cases, where the people were angry about this, because the audience confuses
      fiction with facts.

      Especially for people in the public eye, reputation is important obviously.

      They should have consulted Olivia before making her a character in a drama.

      People should sue every time, when they have evidence, that the representation is false and
      hurts their reputation.

      That’s the only way the TV and movie folks start to learn.

  18. MWinger says:

    If I’m not mistaken, she’s been living in Paris for quite a while & their laws are not our laws, so her perception that she can sue the network using confetti arguments & nothing resembling merit is laughable. I understand her position but there was nothing realistic about Feud & it wasn’t a documentary. While I enjoyed the series the casting was dreadful & it was merely a retelling of earlier works & biographies. The series used a standard formula for historical depiction. It’s been used over & over again through the decades.

    Sounds to me like a money grab by lawyers who’ve convinced a now-ancient lady to make a fuss.

    • Martin Pal says:

      Olivia is providing the perfect episode for Feud: Olivia DeHavilland and Joan Fontaine.

    • Heather says:

      No, this is no “money grab”.

      This is about protecting your reputation and legacy.

      She worked 100 years for it & won’t tolerate the insults of some nasty writers and directors.

      • MWinger says:

        I’ve always liked Olivia. This action demeans her. She’s above all this. People will wonder if her royalties or estate is running dry & perhaps she’s now trying to dip her finger in someone else’s pie.

      • MWinger says:

        You’re just parroting the line her lawyers are using. Fair use goes both ways & I don’t see anything odd or unfair in the way Feud was produced. The producers can even use the inaccuracies to prove their case that it’s fiction. She’s over 100, you cannot tell me she’s concerned with this matter. It’s a money grab pure & simple.

  19. John says:

    Yeah, Olivia ! Give it to them !

    They are liars & always think they get away with their lies…not anymore.

    Murphy probably thought: “This 100-year-old-lady doesn’t watch TV anymore,
    so we will make it up as we like !”

    People should sue more often, instead of tolerating these false representations.

  20. Winston says:

    There goes it’s Emmy chances!! Haha

  21. SF says:

    You mean her family is suing.

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