At the age of 102, the famed actress Olivia de Havilland has continued to fight for her rights against the entertainment industry. Unfortunately today the U.S. Supreme Court refused to reinstate her lawsuit against the makers of FX’s Feud: Bette and Joan. Ms. de Havilland asserted that this show’s exceedingly unflattering portrayal of her was defamatory and demeaning. Using a very specialized California free speech law designed to nip defamation lawsuits in the bud, Ms. de Havilland’s lawsuit was upheld by the trial court, but then thrown out at the appellate level. Appeals to the California Supreme Court and now the U.S. Supreme Court have been futile.
Despite her loss, kudos should go to a woman who fought the studios as a young actress, and who has kept up a good fight to the bitter end.
The question now is whether or not this is sets a bad precedent for famous figures who are portrayed in an extremely negative light. Putting words in someone’s mouth may become an approved means for creating a stir to gin up the ratings. These cases turn on facts, so it remains to be seen how this will impact future bad actors.