LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) — Orson Welles’ daughter has moved a step closer to auctioning her father’s “Citizen Kane” Oscar statuette through a ruling of the U.S. District Court. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which adamantly opposes the sale of any Oscar, said it will appeal.
Beatrice Welles hopes to sell the Oscar — granted in 1942 for best original screenplay — in order to fund her animal-rescue operations. The statuette has been appraised at $500,000-$1 million.
“Welles has unrestricted property rights in the original Oscar, which she may dispose of however she sees fit,” according to a ruling Thursday by Judge Dean Pregerson in Los Angeles.
The case is complicated by the fact that Beatrice Welles requested and received a replacement Oscar in 1988 because it appeared that the original had been lost. At the time, she agreed to the Academy’s standard ownership terms, including its right of first refusal to buy back the statuette for $1.
The original surfaced in 1994, and Beatrice Welles was able to get it back through a court order.
When she moved to auction the original last year, the Academy opposed the sale, and it was canceled.
The Academy argued that the 1988 agreement prohibited her from selling both the original and duplicate Oscar. Beatrice Welles said she thought the contract covered only the duplicate, which she still has.
“The court accepted her statement that she would not have agreed to the right of first refusal if she had known that it extended to the original,” Academy attorney David Quinto said.
According to the appraiser, film historian Anthony Slide, the highest price ever paid for an Oscar was $1.54 million. Singer Michael Jackson paid that amount in 1999 for the “Gone With the Wind” best picture Oscar granted to David O. Selznick.
“In the early 1990s, Oscars were relatively ‘cheap’ at auction, with Harold Russell’s best supporting actor award for ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’ (1946) selling in 1992 for $60,500,” Slide said in his November 2002 appraisal letter to the Academy Foundation.
In 1950, the Academy amended its bylaws to prevent the open-market sale of Oscars.
“The family memento didn’t mean as much to her as saving abused animals,” Beatrice Welles’ attorney Steven Ames Brown said.