At 25 years old, Orson Welles co-wrote, directed, and starred in “Citizen Kane,” which was inspired by the life of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Despite being widely considered the greatest film of all time, “Kane” only ended up taking home a single Academy Award — for best screenplay, in 1941.
On Monday, Nate D. Sanders auctions, a Los Angeles-based auction house, announced that it was auctioning off Welles’ storied “Citizen Kane” statuette, which has passed through quite a few sets of hands over the course of its 70-year lifespan.
According to Nate D. Sanders’ spokesman, Sam Heller, the statuette was originally believed to be “lost” after Welles’ death in 1985, but one of Welles’ cinematographer friends put it up for auction in 1994, and Welles’ daughter Beatrice then retrieved it. Auction house manager Laura Yntema said that the Academy actually made a “duplicate” statuette during this time, but this could not be verified by an Academy spokesperson.
The Academy has made significant strides in an attempt to avoid pricey resales of Oscars on the open market. Since 1950, it has asked all Oscar winners to sign an agreement stating that if the recipient passes away, his or her award will be bequeathed to a spouse or eldest child, who can hold onto it or sell it back to the Academy for one dollar. They are not permitted to sell it anywhere else.
After Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 2009, a tricky situation flared up. Because Ledger was unmarried, his 3-year-old daughter, Matilda, was technically the owner of the statuette. But since she was too young to sign, the Academy made a deal allowing Michelle Williams, Matilda’s mother, to hold Ledger’s Oscar in trust until Matilda’s 18th birthday.
Since Welles never signed any such agreement, his daughter Beatrice was able to thwart that Academy stipulation. In 2003, after a well-publicized court case, Beatrice Welles v. Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, Ms. Welles actually won the right to sell her father’s award on the open market, During that case, the Academy testified that the award was valued at $1 million, but a 2007 auction through Sotheby’s failed to find a high enough bidder, and it was then withdrawn from sale.
In 2006, Forbes reported that at least 150 other statuettes have likely been sold on the “grey market” since the first Oscar ceremony in 1929. Some film professionals have made strides to combat these sales, or have even bought the awards themselves, only to resell them back to the Academy for preservation. In 2001, Steven Spielberg bought Bette Davis’ 1938 Best Actress Oscar for $578,000 and then returned it to the Academy. Kevin Spacey bought George Stoll’s Oscar for “Anchors Aweigh” at a price tag of $157,000 and also returned it. David Copperfield, on the other hand, keeps the Oscar he bought — the 1943 Best Director Oscar for “Casablanca,” — “in his bedroom,” according to Forbes.
A press representative for Beatrice Welles told The Huffington Post that Welles was unavailable to comment on the most recent auction, but the representative believed that the Dax Foundation is likely the current seller of the statuette. According to its website, the Dax Foundation “provides grants, resources, and technical assistance” to individuals around the world “with a passionate vision for making this world a better place.”
However, Ms. Welles’ representative also said that she had been unaware the statuette was being resold until Monday morning, when The Huffington Post contacted her for a comment.
Nate D. Sanders auction house manager, Laura Yntema, would not confirm the current seller’s identity, since the seller wished to remain anonymous, but suggested that the award is currently part of a “private collection.”
“The consigner was ready for whatever his personal reasons,” Yntema said. “[Beatrice] Welles had owned it at one point, now it’s in a private collection. We can’t say whose that is.”
As of Tuesday morning, the highest bid was priced at $72,890. The auction ends on Dec. 20 at 5 p.m. PST. To learn more, or to place a bid, click here.