By Dominic Patten
(Deadline, Los Angeles)
As FX and the producers of Feud: Bette and Joan learned today in court, time waits for no one, especially if 101-year old Olivia de Havilland wants a speedy trial for her lawsuit over how she was depicted in the Emmy nominated series.
Just days before the Ryan Murphy co-created Feud could see big wins at the 69th annual Primetime Emmy Awards on September 17 for stars Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, LA Superior Court Judge Holly Kendig unsurprisingly ruled Wednesday in the two time Oscar winner’s favor. An approximately five to seven-day trial has been set to start on November 27.
While the Paris-based de Havilland was not at the well-attended hearing today with her attorneys, her daughter and LA resident Gisele Galante Chulak was there. There was no real opposition from FX and the other defendants in the matter, though the parties differed over how long the trial should take. “Because this goes back decades, there are third parties we have to locate,” said FX attorney Robert Rotstein this morning seeking more trial time, looking at experts in genre and the like.
“I can’t image how one could not do that when the plaintiff is 101 years old,” said the Judge in court, though she expressed concerns about having a trial so close to the holidays. Judge Kendig set November 13 as the date of final exchange of documents between the parties, including jury instructions.
Seeking wide-ranging damages and a move to essentially shut down the FX anthology show with an injunction, de Havilland insisted in her initial June 30 lawsuit that her portrayal by Catherine Zeta-Jones in Feud damaged her “professional reputation for integrity, honesty, generosity, self-sacrifice and dignity.”
Having won twice at the Creative Emmys this past weekend, Feud is up for 10 nominations on September 17 out of its total of 18. With a trial now set, de Havilland’s legal team of Don Howarth, Suzelle Smith and Zoe Tremaye of L.A.’s Howarth & Smith will surely depose Murphy, FX execs, Oscar winner Zeta-Jones and others connected to the case. Undoubtedly, de Havilland herself will also sit for a deposition and come to town for the trial from her home in France.
First proposed back in late July, the motion to fast track the proceedings is based on the reality of de Havilland’s “unusually advanced age,” to quote the paperwork from her lawyers. Simply put, without being too indelicate and aware of how long such suits can grind away in the courts, the July 1, 1916-born icon wanted everything expedited so she would be alive to see Lady Justice in action. A statute in the state of California provides for parties in a legal matter to petition for a faster trial, for the obvious reasons.
In her jury seeking complaint of late June, the Hold Back the Dawn and The Heiress actress asserts that FX, Murphy and producers 20th Century Fox TV never even sought nor obtained her permission to depict her or use her name in their eight-episode series about Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Among other issues, de Havilland’s lawsuit specifically targets the alleged backstage drama depicted in Feud‘s “And the Winner Is” fifth episode at the 1963 Oscars.
“At the 1963 Academy Awards, Zeta-Jones’ de Havilland comments to Bette Davis, portrayed by Susan Sarandon, that Oscar host Frank Sinatra must have drunk all the alcohol in the backstage lounge, because they cannot find any,” says the June 30 compliant. “All of this is untrue and casts Olivia de Havilland in false, hurtful and damaging light.”
Of course, FX and the other defendants repudiate de Havilland’s claims – respectfully.
“By alleging that Feud casts her in a false light and violates her right of publicity, Olivia de Havilland’s meritless lawsuit seeks to impinge on Defendants’ First Amendment right to create expressive works about matters of public interest,” asserts an extensive August 29 anti-SLAPP motion to strike from FX’s Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP lawyers. “The Court should grant Defendants’ motion to strike in its entirety and award fees.”
A hearing on the anti-SLAPP motion is scheduled for September 29, also in Judge Kendig’s courtroom. If FX take a hit on that one, the defendant is expected to appeal quickly and seek an extended stay. To counter that, de Havilland’s side look sure to also seek an expedited treatment in the appellate court, as California law provides. The two sides could also mediate that part of the case, Howarth told the court Wednesday.
So, the Feud feud continues. See ya at the Emmys on Sunday.