Lamb Bites Wolf Twice: Olivia de Havilland's Lawsuits

(Left) Olivia de Havilland in 1943, (right) Olivia in 2016, on her 100th birthday. 

On July 1, 2017, Olivia de Havilland celebrated her 101st birthday. The actress, who retired back in the eighties and has lived in Paris, France, for over half a century, appeared in forty-nine films and was once of the most celebrated actresses of her time, most notably for her appearances in Gone With The Wind, To Each His Own and The Heiress, the former for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, while the later two she won. And though her career in Hollywood ended a long, long time ago, Olivia de Havilland nevertheless remains today one of the last living legends of Classical Hollywood's Golden Age, having received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush and most recently, in June, she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, all for her work in drama.

And on June 30, on the eve of her 101st birthday, do you know what Olivia de Havilland did to celebrate her upcoming achievement? She filed a lawsuit that quickly took hold of the headlines . . . though it wasn't her first time doing so.

(Left) Olivia de Havilland as she's portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones in FX's Feud. (Right) Olivia at the 1963 Academy Awards. 

Olivia de Havilland at the 1963 Academy Awards, which was featured on FX's Feud

In March of this year, FX launched a new television entitled Feud, an anthology series, the first season of which would document the (I know the word's been overused to describe it, but it truly was) legendary feud between two of Hollywood's biggest stars: Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, both contemporaries of Olivia's. With Ryan Murphy, the genius behind American Horror Story and American Crime Story, behind it, I knew it would be good and it really, really was. Olivia was featured as a supporting player on the show, depicted by the very talented Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose one hundred-year-old father-in-law Kirk Douglas (father of husband Michael) was also a contemporary of Olivia's, and Joan's, and Bette's. Seen briefly during the Oscars on 1963 and later on when the show addressed the filming of Hush. . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte,  Olivia's main role is narrating to the audience through the frame of a 1977 interview being conducted about Joan Crawford on the night of that year's Academy Awards.

Out of all the stars depicted on the show, Olivia was the only one still living in real life, and from the beginning she'd made it clear she wasn't a fan of the show, stating to the Hollywood Reporter that "in principle, I am opposed to any representation of personages who are no longer alive." However, she took her disapproval one step further when she filed her lawsuit on June 30, claiming that the show had portrayed her as someone who feeds gossip to the press, damaging her reputation, in an interview that never occurred, saying words that were never spoken, all-the-while never bothering to consult her.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Olivia's "suing for infringement of common law right of publicity, invasion of privacy and unjust enrichment and is asking the court for not only damages but also any profits gained from the use of her likeness and an injunction to keep FX from continuing to use her name and likeness."

It was an action she had taken almost eighty years earlier against another media-powerhouse, Warner Bros.

Olivia de Havilland during the early years: (L to R) in 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood, in a 1935 publicity photo, and her famed role as Melanie Hamilton in 1939's Gone With The Wind
The year was 1943, and Olivia de Havilland had just completed her seven-year contract for the Warner Bros. Pictures when she was informed by the studios that was, actually, now required to provide six months more in work for them, making up for the times that she had been suspended for not accepting roles they'd offered to her. This had been a policy for years at the studios, with few other actors or actresses, namely an unsuccessful Bette Davis who sued in the 1930's, trying to do anything about it. In August of that year, Olivia took the studio to court and that November the California Superior Court found in de Havilland's favor. Warner Bros. quickly appealed but on December 8 of the following year, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District ruled in her favor, resulting in a "seven-year-rule" that is today known as the De Havilland Law.

Though it won Olivia the respect of many of her peers in Hollywood, including her sister, Joan Fontaine, whom she had had her own feud with, Olivia was blacklisted by other studios and didn't work for nearly two years. As time would tell, however, that didn't stop her.

Olivia de Havilland with her two Academy Awards for Best Actress, both of which she won after leaving Warner Bros.

Today, even at 101, Olivia is, clearly, still going strong and fighting for what she believes is unjust. It's recently been reported that she's hoping to expedite the process of her lawsuit against FX, wanting to get it resolved before her 102nd birthday next year by using a California statue that allows people over 70 to speed up litigation. Time will tell how this will play out, though, if we've learned anything, it's to not underestimate Olivia de Havilland's strength.

Sources:
Olivia de Havilland Sues FX Over 'Feud' Portrayal, Hollywood Reporter
Olivia de Havilland Wants to Take FX to Trial Before Her 102nd Birthday
"Timelessly elegant at 100: Gone With The Wind's Olivia de Havilland celebrates milestone birthday and finally breaks silence on Golden Age of Hollywood's most infamous sibling rivalry," The Daily Mail.

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