Olivia de Havilland admits that she called her sister, actress Joan Fontaine, a “dragon lady.” But in court filings submitted on Friday, she swears up and down that she never — and would never — call her a bitch.
The distinction is one of the key issues in the 101-year-old actress’s lawsuit against FX Networks, which is set for a dismissal hearing on Sept. 29. De Havilland claims that she was depicted falsely in the FX series “Feud,” which chronicles the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
In the series, Catherine Zeta-Jones depicts de Havilland giving an interview in which she gossips about the actresses’ personal lives. The interview itself is a work of fiction, but FX’s lawyers contend it contains the “sting” of truth, and does therefore not defame de Havilland. FX is seeking to strike the lawsuit, contending that the First Amendment protects the network’s right to produce a docudrama on matters of public interest.
De Havilland’s attorneys filed their opposition to the motion on Friday, arguing that FX and producer Ryan Murphy acted maliciously in concocting the fake interview with de Havilland, which is depicted as occurring at the 1978 Oscars.
“I find it extremely offensive that the producers of ‘Feud’ chose to use my life, reputation, and name in such a dishonest way for their own commercial purpose in sensationalizing their show,” de Havilland writes, in a declaration attached to the motion.
De Havilland objects to her character’s comment about Frank Sinatra’s drinking habits. She also says that Davis was a close friend, and that she would not have gossiped about her in an interview. In an earlier declaration, de Havilland addressed the claim that she called her sister a bitch, saying that “This kind of vulgarity is not language that I use.”
FX’s attorneys responded by pointing to outtake reels from several classic films, available on YouTube, in which the actress says “Oh Christ,” “God damn it,” and “son of a bitch” after flubbing her lines. They also referenced a book in which de Havilland is quoted telling a director “I don’t play bitches. They make me unhappy.”
In her response, de Havilland says the bloopers were “unguarded, impulsive moments, wherein I felt I was in a confidential setting.” She also says she never said the quote about not playing bitches.
In 2016, de Havilland gave an interview to the Associated Press in which she called her sister “dragon lady,” and said she had an “astigmatism in her perception of people and events which often caused her to react in an unfair and even injurious way.”
In their briefings to the court, both sides offer competing dictionary definitions for “bitch” and “dragon lady,” with FX arguing the terms are interchangeable and de Havilland’s lawyers contending they carry vastly different meanings.
In the motion Friday, de Havilland’s attorneys included a declaration stating that she could have been paid $1.38 to $2.1 million, had she given her consent to the production.
On Wednesday, Judge Holly Kendig granted de Havilland’s request for an expedited trial, setting it to begin on Nov. 27.