Saturday, February 22, 2014

Winning Oscars buying selling auctioning Academy Awards

Auctioning Academy Awards, Buying and Selling
Those who collect them
Those who buy them just to return them to
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

In December 2002, Steven Spielberg paid $180,000, not including fees and
Steven Spielberg
Autographed Oscar
8x10 Color Photo
taxes, for Bette Davis' Best Actress Oscar for the 1935 movie Dangerous. It was auctioned by Sotheby's in New York. 

In 2001, Spielberg had paid $578,000 for the Oscar Davis won for the 1938 movie Jezebel. The director/producer is one of a handful of people who are buying up Oscars and giving them to the academy.

In 1996 Clark Gable's Best Actor Oscar for 1934's It Happened One Night sold for $607,500.

Clark Gable's son and only heir, John Clark Gable put the Oscar up for auction at Christie’s in Los Angeles. 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had sued to keep Gable's Oscar off the auction block. Both Christie's and Gable's son were defendants in the case.

Apparently the academy claimed that, two years before his death in 1960, Gable signed a standard contract giving it first right to buy the statuette if it was ever sold. Christie's claimed the signature on the agreement was a fake.

In 1955 a magazine claimed that Gable had given the Oscar to the son of director, Walter Lang. Lang was married to former actress, Madalynne Field. Also known as Fieldsie, she was private secretary and good friend to Carole Lombard. Lang and Field met when he directed Lombard in the 1936 film, Love Before Breakfast.

1955 Clipping claiming Clark Gable had given his Oscar
to the son of director Walter Lang
  Turns out that this was, to my knowledge at least, the first Oscar purchased by Mr. Spielberg and returned to the academy.

"I could think of no better sanctuary for Gable's only Oscar than the Motion Picture Academy," Spielberg said in a statement. "The Oscar statuette is the most personal recognition of good work our industry can ever bestow, and it strikes me as a sad sign of our times that this icon could be confused with a commercial treasure."

September 2001, George Stoll's Best Score Oscar (received for the 1945 film Anchors Aweigh) was offered in an estate sale at the Butterfields auction house. The award brought seven times more than expected at $156,875.  The actor Kevin Spacey was revealed as the anonymous buyer. He subsequently returned it to the Academy. 

In 1992 Harold Russell sold his Best Supporting Actor statuette from The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) for $50,000. Not a professional actor, he was able to portray a version of his own story in the film, a World War II veteran who comes home a double amputee. After making the film, he got a business degree from Boston University and became an ardent advocate for the disabled.

Mr. Russell said he needed the money to pay his wife's medical bills and other expenses. He's quoted as saying, "I don't know why anybody would be critical. My wife's health is much more important than sentimental reasons. The movie will be here, even if Oscar isn't." 

Russell received an honorary Oscar as well for being an inspiration for disabled war veterans throughout the U.S. "To Harold Russell for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance in "he Best Years of Our Lives." This made him the first (and only) actor to receive two Oscars for the same role.

It's reported that agent Lew Wasserman bought Russell's statuette and donated it back to the academy.

Take the case of the Joseph Schildkraut Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for The Life of Emile Zola, 1937. His Oscar was in the early days when supporting actor awards were still plaques. In a 2007 auction it failed to reach its minimum bid and didn't sell. But in 2013 the Oscar sold for $92,866.

This is the only instance I found where a performer or craftsperson sold his or her own award. There are instances where people have donated or said to have gifted them.

In December 1993, the Oscar won by actress Vivien Leigh for her performance as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind was sold at auction for $510,000. The award was sold by her family. Ms. Leigh also won a Best Actress Oscar at the 24th Annual Academy Awards in 1952 for her portrayal of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

In 1970 Let It Be won the Oscar for Best Original Score presented to The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr). It's from their documentary film of the same name. 

In 1976, John Lennon donated his Oscar statuette to the Southbury Training School in Southbuy, CT for "a celebrity auction for retarded people," and it brought $600. It was sold again at a 1992 auction bringing $110,000 from an anonymous Beatles fan.

The best actress Oscar won by Joan Crawford for her role in classic film Mildred Pierce sold at auction on two occasions. Ms. Crawford's daughter Cathy sold it in 1993 at a Christie's auction for $68,500 to an anonymous bidder. In September 2012 it was sold at auction again for $426,732.

8 Academy Award Winners Signed 8x10 Photo (PSA/DNA) LOA- Audrey Hepburn, Denzel Washington, James Stewart, Gene Kelly, Sally Field +

Magician David Copperfield spent close to a quarter of a million dollars for Michael Curtiz's Best Director Oscar for Casablanca (1943). Copperfield was unsuccessful in securing Welles' Oscar as co-writer for Citizen Kane.

Michael Jackson paid $1.54m at auction in 1999 for the Best Film (then called Outstanding Production) Oscar awarded to producer David O Selznick for Gone With The Wind.

In February 2012 a record 15 Oscars were auctioned off just days after the Academy Awards took place. The statuettes were all awarded prior to 1950.

"The academy, its members and the many film artists and craftspeople who've won Academy Awards believe strongly that Oscars should be won, not purchased," said academy spokeswoman Janet Hill in a statement. "Unfortunately, because our winners agreement wasn't instituted until 1950, we don't have any legal means of stopping the commoditization of these particular statuettes."

Of the 15 auctioned together, the Oscar bringing in the most money was $588,000 for Citizen Kane Best Original Screenplay Oscar received by Herman J. Mankiewicz which he shared with Orson Welles as co-writer.  

"Also up for grabs were How Green Was My Valley's best picture Oscar from 1941, which went for $274,520 and Cavalcade's 1933 gong for the same prize, which brought in $332,165. 

"The oldest of the Oscars on sale, Skippy's best picture statuette from 1931, fetched $301,973. 

"Two acting statuettes, Ronald Colman's 1947 best actor prize for A Double Life and Charles Coburn's historic supporting award for 1943's The More The Merrier – the first year that supporting actors were honored with their own prize – took $206,250 and $170,459 respectively."
-- The Guardian February 2012

Jaws was nominated for Best Picture. Watching the nomination, Spielberg is disappointed that he's not nominated for Best Directing. "The shark was an actress," he jokes, as if the shark might be eligible for that category. 

They note that Jaws is one of the few films to be nominated for Best Picture but not in other major categories of directing, acting, or writing. The 48th Academy Awards were presented March 29, 1976.

That year the winner was One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Michael Douglas, Saul Zaentz. Other fantastic films in the category of Best Picture were Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws, Nashville and Barry Lyndon.

Some may remember the old Jack Benny radio show, It's still available in MP3 podcast form. Ronald Colman was one of Jack Benny's neighbors. A series of shows dealt with Benny's borrowing Colman's Oscar.

In 2002 Ronald Colman's Academy Award sold for $174,500. Also auctioned was a special brass Oscar box. It was inscribed, "To Ronald Colman/With The Affection and Esteem/Of His Fellow Actors/The Masquers/First Annual Dinner to the Winner/April 28, 1948," per Christie's Auction description of a Colman estate sale in 2002.

FYI: In the early years of the academy winners in the supporting acting categories were awarded plaques. After 1943, winners in the supporting acting categories were awarded Oscar statuettes similar to those awarded to winners in all other categories, including the leading acting categories. Have any of these fifteen Oscars been donated back to the academy? I haven't heard yet.

Mr. Copperfield is among a large group of fans who believe that the statuettes are to be respected as important pieces of movie memorabilia by collectors. This controversy is unlikely to end as the heirs of those who won the awards before 1950 are still legally allowed to do what they will with the statuettes. 

How do you feel about owning an Oscar or an Emmy Award as a piece of movie memorabilia like one of James Bond's cars or Dorothy's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz?

"Since the Academy Awards were first presented in 1929, there have been famous instances of lost or stolen Oscars. Margaret O'Brien's 1945 award for outstanding child acting disappeared from her home, only to be found 50 years later at a Pasadena flea market and returned to her."

The academy is in the process of building a museum. Some winners have their awards on display where fans can see them. I read that you can view movie memorabilia at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery Geyserville, CA, and that includes Mr. Coppola's Academy Awards. Similarly if you visit the Raymond Burr Vineyards in Healdsburg, CA you may be able to see his Emmy Awards.

In 1950, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences passed a rule prohibiting Academy Award winners or their heirs from selling a statue without first offering it back to the Academy for a price of $1.

"Award winners shall not sell or otherwise dispose of the Oscar statuette, nor permit it to be sold or disposed of by operation of law, without first offering to sell it to the Academy for the sum of $1.00. This provision shall apply also to the heirs and assigns of Academy Award winners who may acquire a statuette by gift or bequest."
-- excerpted from the Academy Rules and Regulations

Related Pages of Interest

The Travels of Orson Welles' Academy Award for Citizen Kane

Entertainment Memorabilia Auctioning, Collecting: Recent; Updates

Film characters with prosthetic hands: Character and Disability in film
Clark Gable marries Kay Williams July 1955

Carole Lombard and William Powell; mentions Lombard's secretary Fieldsie, Madalynne Field


Los Angeles Times
New York Times
New York Daily News
The Victoria Advocate
Michael Jackson: The Magic, The Madness, The Whole Story, 1958-2009

All information is researched and deemed accurate. Please send corrections and updates if you have them with sources.

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