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How much is an Oscar worth?

MICHAEL IDATO
Last updated 05:00 04/07/2014
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MARIO ANZUONI/Reuters

NOT FOR SALE: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are attempting to buy back a 1942 award recently sold at auction for US$80,000.

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It is an oft-asked question: how much is an Oscar worth? 

The family of Oscar winner Joseph Wright are about to find out, as a legal clash brews with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences over the family's planned sale of Wright's Oscar.

Wright won the Oscar in 1942 for his work as art director of the film My Gal Sal, which starred the legendary Rita Hayworth.

The Oscar in question was sold a week ago for almost US$80,000 (NZ$91,000) by Briarbrook Auction Services, on behalf of the family, to a private buyer.

That sale, according to the Academy, breaches the agreement every Oscar winner signs which says they, or their heirs, cannot sell an Oscar without first offering it to the Academy for one dollar.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, is suing for US$79,200 and "other damages" and is seeking a jury trial.

Despite the clause, lawyers have for many years debated its validity, and the practicality of enforcing it: notably, that the contract is not technically broken until the Oscar is sold, at which point it is no longer the property (or even in the custody) of the original owner.

In 1989, the Academy shut down a planned auction by Cyrus Todd, the grandson of producer Michael Todd, who planned to sell his grandfather's 1956 Oscar, won for best picture for Oscar for Around the World in 80 Days.

And in 2007, they sued the family of actress Mary Pickford, for attempting to sell one of her Oscars. (She won two, a 1929 Oscar for Best Actress and an honorary Oscar in 1975.)

At the same time, the Academy has failed to stop other attempts to sell Oscars.

The late pop superstar Michael Jackson bought the 1939 best picture Oscar for Gone with the Wind in 1999 for US$1.5 million. And the stage magician David Copperfield bought the 1943 best director Oscar for Casablanca in 2003 for US$232,000.

Several high-profile Hollywood identities have bought Oscars and returned them to the Academy, notably Steven Spielberg, who paid US$578,000 for Bette Davis' 1938 best actress Oscar for Jezebel and actor Kevin Spacey, who paid US$157,000 for Georgie Stoll's 1945 Oscar for original music score for Anchors Aweigh.

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- The Age

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