"There was never a rivalry like theirs. For nearly a half a century, they hated each other, and we loved them for it," says Olivia de Havilland's character in the FX cable pseudo-documentary "Feud: Bette and Joan."
The line seems a bit too on the nose to be real, and the actual Olivia de Havilland claims she never said anything like that. In fact, the two-time Oscar winner complains that the series falsely portrayed her as a "petty gossip."
The pseudo documentary covers the alleged feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford that apparently blew up during the making of "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" for which Davis was nominated for an Oscar.
The 101-year-old Dame de Havilland has filed suit against FX and the series' production company. According to the complaint, the defendants misappropriated Olivia de Havilland's name, likeness and identity without her permission and used them falsely in order to exploit their own commercial interests."
The line about Davis and Crawford's rivalry took place in an Oscars interview in the series. De Havilland calls that interview "fake" and "false." She denies other lines her character said in the series, as well. She says she never called her sister, Joan Fontaine, a "bitch" or commented on Frank Sinatra's backstage drinking, as her character does in the show.
"FX defendants' portrayal of Olivia de Havilland in 'Feud' creates the public impression that she was a hypocrite, selling gossip in order to promote herself at the Academy Awards," reads the complaint. "This did not happen and was false. There is no public interest to be protected by putting false statements into the mouth of a living person, using their name and identity for a false and unauthorized purpose, damaging their reputation."
The lawsuit goes on to say that such falsehoods are not protected by the free speech guarantee of the First Amendment, especially in the case of a pseudo-documentary.
She is suing for damages, fees and costs.
Storytellers and filmmakers are wise to remember that they don't have an unqualified right to portray real people in any way they please. While we have no comment on this specific case, it's important to realize that performers have the right to protect their good name and image from false or unjustly unflattering portrayals.