De Havilland was portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones in the first season of Feud, which focused on the tense relationship between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford during the making of their film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? As de Havilland was a friend and co-star of the now-late Davis, she was a supporting character in the series.
Back in July of 2017, the real de Havilland filed a complaint with the California State Court in Los Angeles, stating that the production misappropriated her "name, likeness and identity without her permission and used them falsely in order to exploit their own commercial interests." She believes that while the production did everything possible to turn Zeta-Jones, physically, into de Havilland, the statements she made within the series were anything but accurate — and that no one on the production asked her for the truth.
The judge in the case, however, did not see reason for the lawsuit. Per Deadline, the judge stated on Monday that "[the portrayal by Zeta-Jones] is not highly offensive to a reasonable person as a matter of law."
De Havilland may not be done fighting this particular feud. According to Deadline, her lawyer, Suzelle Smith, stated that "this case appears to be destined for a higher court, and we will be preparing the appropriate petition for such review." That means that, theoretically, Smith could take de Havilland's case to the California Supreme Court.
Until then, however, Murphy is particularly pleased with this ruling. In a statement to the media, the prolific producer said:
"Today’s victory gives all creators the breathing room necessary to continue to tell important historical stories inspired by true events. Most of all, it’s a great day for artistic expression and a reminder of how precious our freedom remains."
This dismissal is particularly important for Murphy, as de Havilland winning this case could open up issues for his future work. The American Horror Story creator is, after all, famous for crafting television stories based on real people and events. Season 1 of American Crime Story, for example, told the story of the O.J. Simpson trial, while the second season pulled back the layers on the murder of Gianni Versace. The latter season was called a "work of fiction" by Versace's family. Had de Havilland won her lawsuit, it's possible that other people who were not entirely pleased by Murphy's portrayals could attempt to take the same legal action.
This news is also good for Murphy as he enters the second season of Feud, which will reportedly be about Prince Charles, who is still alive, and the late Princess Diana.
While we may not be at the very end of de Havilland's legal battle with Murphy, today it seems that the Glee creator has won his battle for artistic expression. Now we'll just have to wait and see what other historical figures Murphy chooses to play with — especially as his massive new deal with Netflix comes to fruition. Let's hope that any living persons are happier with their portrayals.