From the New York Times:
A standoff over one of the most illustrious artifacts of American film, the Oscar won by Orson Welles in 1942 as the co-writer of "Citizen Kane," ended yesterday when Christie's withdrew it from sale. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Hollywood trade group that sponsors the Oscars, had objected to its sale, claiming the right to buy back the statue for $1.
The Oscar was to have been the centerpiece of Christie's "Entertainment Memorabilia" auction on Friday and was highlighted on the catalog cover. It was among a large selection of Welles-related material and had carried an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. The rest of the sale is to continue as planned.
"The Oscar has been withdrawn," a Christie's spokeswoman said late yesterday afternoon, "so we will not be able to offer it in the sale."
Although several major Oscars have reached the market in recent years, including Ronald Colman's best-acting award for "A Double Life" (1947), which sold at Christie's last year for $174,500, the academy has long imposed restrictions on how and where Oscars can be sold.
Bruce Davis, the academy's executive director, had said he was surprised that the Welles Oscar had been scheduled for sale because "we have a letter from Christie's general counsel assuring us that the Oscar would not be offered for sale until the legal issues are resolved." He continued, "We were extremely puzzled to hear on Friday that they intended to go ahead and put it on the block."
Since 1950 the academy has asked all Oscar recipients to sign an agreement stipulating that should the owner ever offer the Oscar for sale, the academy has the first right of purchase, at the nominal cost of $1. Mr. Davis said the agreement was evoked to stop the sale of the Kane Oscar, even though it was won eight years before the agreement came into being.
The Oscar was being sold by Beatrice Welles, the youngest of Orson Welles's three daughters and the sole heir of his estate. She inherited the estate from her mother, Paola Mori, the last of Welles's three wives, who died in 1986. Orson Welles died in 1985.
Knowing of the buy-back rule, auction houses frequently call the academy to check on the status of Oscars offered to them. "Christie's is pretty good about this kind of thing," Mr. Davis said. "They in fact called us, as they normally do when an Oscar statuette is involved, and asked is this one that we would object to or not." It was.
This is not the first time that Welles's "Kane" Oscar has surfaced for sale. The statue has a history murky and complex enough to compare with the famous jewel-encrusted bird of John Huston's 1941 film "The Maltese Falcon," the original "stuff that dreams are made of."
For many years the Welles Oscar was believed to be lost, a victim of Welles's life of upheaval and frequent trans-Atlantic trips after he first left Hollywood in 1948. In 1988 Beatrice Welles wrote to Robert Wise, who was then president of the academy, requesting a duplicate.
"That's a little unusual for us to do," Mr. Davis said. "But that's what we did. We gave her a duplicate, and fortunately we also had her sign a version of the winner's agreement at that time, which also covered the original, should it ever surface."
In 1994 the original statue did appear, at Sotheby's auction house in London. It had been in the collection of Gary Graver, a cinematographer (and occasional director of low-budget movies), who had worked, reportedly unpaid, on several of Welles's final projects.
Welles left a tangled legacy of rights, both full and partial, to films both finished and unfinished. During the shooting of one of the unfinished ones, "The Other Side of the Wind" in 1974, Welles used the statue as a prop for his main character, a Welles-like Hollywood maverick played by John Huston. When the scene was finished, according to court papers filed later, Welles handed the Oscar to Mr. Graver and said, "Here, keep this."
Mr. Graver said he interpreted Welles's words as a bequest. But Beatrice Welles and her advisers have contended that the words were a simple instruction to place the valuable item out of harm's way.
"He gave it to me and told me to keep it," Mr. Graver said in a recent interview from his home in Los Angeles. "She never saw it before in her life. Orson had given it to me, and she went to court and said, `I want it.' That's like me taking you to court and saying I want to take your car."
The Oscar, Mr. Graver said, was one of the many gifts Mr. Welles offered in lieu of cash: "Just like he gave me posters. You never knew what he was going to do. I had prints of films and posters, but I was afraid if I said I had anything, they'd try to grab it from me. Which is ridiculous, because Orson was not commercial. He's an artist, and there's not a lot of money to be made off of him."
In 1994 a financially strapped Mr. Graver sold the Oscar to a company called Bay Holdings for $50,000 and "other considerations," he said, declining to specify those considerations. Bay Holdings offered the piece to Sotheby's in London; news reports at the time said a minimum bid was set at $250,000.
When Beatrice Welles learned of the Oscar's existence, she filed a suit in California Superior Court against Mr. Graver and Bay Holdings. She won the case, stopping the sale. The statue, after spending some time in the care of the California judicial system, was eventually turned over to her. Ms. Welles now has two Oscars, the original and the replacement. Attempts to reach Ms. Welles have been unsuccessful.
There is no difficulty distinguishing the original Oscar from its substitute. "The ones given out in 1941 had a very different base," Mr. Davis said. "It was a Belgian marble base. It was during the war that they began to use the higher sprung-aluminum base. It's also easy because, beginning in 1950, we began putting serial numbers on them. From that point on, each statuette bears a unique number."
Mr. Davis said the original Welles Oscar was on display at the academy headquarters in March for the 75th anniversary of the Oscars. "We did an exhibition in our gallery where we borrowed back one statuette from each year of Academy history," he said. "And that happened to be the one we went after for 1941. The day before the show opened, we finally got permission to include it."
So assuming the Academy's document signed by Beatrice Welles is solid, she can either a) keep the Oscar or b) sell it to the Academy for a dollar. That is utterly hilarious. No wonder she was suing the Academy, they're cutting off her payday.