LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - FX Networks, a unit of Twenty-First Century Fox, on Monday (March 26) prevailed in a lawsuit brought by Oscar-winning actress Olivia de Havilland over her depiction in a miniseries about the feud between Hollywood screen legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
A state appeals court in California dismissed the 101-year-old de Havilland's claims that the docudrama Feud: Bette and Joan falsely portrayed her as a gossip and a hypocrite, damaging her reputation.
The portrayal of de Havilland in Feud, created by producer Ryan Murphy, was overwhelmingly positive, the court said.
The court said allowing de Havilland's case to proceed would interfere with the rights of authors and film-makers to make creative works that dramatise historical events.
"Books, films, plays, and television shows often portray real people," the court said. "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."
De Havilland was portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones in Feud, which starred Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford and Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis. The series explored the bad blood between Crawford and Davis in the later years of their lives.
De Havilland's lawyer Suzelle Smith said in a statement that the decision "does not properly balance the First Amendment with other important rights" and she would appeal.
Murphy said the ruling "gives all creators the breathing room necessary to continue to tell important historical stories inspired by true events". In February, Netflix hired Murphy, known for the hit series American Horror Story and Glee, to create exclusive series and films as part of a five-year deal expected to be worth up to US$300 million (S$392 million).
De Havilland, best known for the 1939 film Gone With the Wind, won two Oscars in a career spanning 50 movies. She moved to Paris in the 1950s and has made rare public appearances since retiring.
Her lawyers said she was the only living person to be depicted in the eight-part miniseries.
De Havilland objected to scenes in which she was portrayed as using a vulgar term to refer to her sister, actress Joan Fontaine, and joking about Frank Sinatra's drinking.
In October, a lower court judge denied an FX request to dismiss the case on First Amendment grounds, saying there was merit to her allegation that she was depicted in a false light.