The Oscar statuette given to Orson Welles 70 years ago for his critically acclaimed movie “Citizen Kane” has sold at auction for nearly $900,000, organizers said.
“Welles received this award for best original screenplay, which was, incredibly, the only Oscar that either ‘Citizen Kane’ or Orson Welles received,” said auctioneer Nate Sanders.
Magician (or “illusionist,” whichever you prefer) David Copperfield was among those clamoring for the golden trophy, but he was the runner-up bidder for the Oscar, which sold to an undisclosed buyer for $861,542, Los Angeles auctioneer Nate Sanders said.
This is the second time the Oscar has been put up for auction. When the “Kane” statuette was put up for auction in New York back in 2007, it failed to find a buyer (amazingly enough). At that time, it was expected to sell for around $1 million.
“This is a testament to the popularity of Orson Welles and his magnum opus ‘Citizen Kane.’ I’m proud to have represented this fantastic award to the cinema collecting community,” Sanders said in a statement late Tuesday.
The slightly tarnished Oscar for 1941 best screenplay is one of just a handful of illustrious Academy Award statues to sell for near the million-dollar mark. Several pre-1950s Oscars have been auctioned off for vast amounts, including the best picture Oscar for the 1939 film “Gone with the Wind,” which was sold for a record $1.54 million in 1999 to Michael Jackson.
Perhaps increasing its value, the history of the “Kane” statuette is marked with “hazy spells” and intrigue. Reuters reports:
Welles had lost it, but it resurfaced after his 1985 death when it was put up for auction in 1994 by a cinematographer, who claimed Welles had given it to him as a form of payment.
Welles’s daughter Beatrice sued and won back ownership of the statue, but she was sued in turn by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which gives out the awards, when she tried to auction it in 2003.
After a legal battle, Beatrice Welles was given the right to dispose of the Oscar. She sold it to a California non-profit organization called the Dax Foundation, who tried unsuccessfully to auction it in 2007.
In 2002 when Beatrice Welles won a legal case against the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences giving her the right to sell it, the statuette was valued at $1 million, Sanders said.
When the statuette failed to sell in New York four years ago, the Oscar was being sold by a U.S. charitable foundation, which acquired it from the Welles estate.
The “Kane” Oscar—12 inches tall, and weighing 7 pounds and 5 ounces—is now being sold from a private collection, Sanders said this month adding that the winning bidder would be given a complete chain of ownership record.
But the statuette itself isn’t very valuable. It’s the the aura that surrounds the film and its continuing legacy that makes Welles’ Oscar a prized item among “cinema collectors.”
“Citizen Kane” was Welles’ first feature, made when he was just 25 years old. Considered a masterpiece of cinema, it has been voted the top film of all time by both the American and British Film Institutes.
The black-and-white movie—which did poorly at the box office and failed to win a nomination for best picture—tells the story of a newspaper magnate bent on supremacy and is thought to be based on U.S. press baron William Randolph Hearst.
Although “Citizen Kane” received Oscar nominations for best screenplay, best director and best leading actor, the writing award was the only Oscar that Welles won throughout his life.
Who knows? This may have been the unofficial start of the academy’s annual tradition of snubbing well-written and stylistic films (e.g. “China Town,” “Breaking Away” and “The Mission”) in favor of ones that are more “shocking/edgy” (e.g. “Midnight Cowboy,” “American Beauty” and “The Silence of the Lambs”) or “popular” (e.g. “Titanic,” “Chicago” and “Shakespeare in Love”).
The “Citizen Kane” statuette’s worth can probably attributed to the fact that the script it honors continues to resonate with both audiences and critics alike, which, considering the state of modern cinema, is somewhat of a Herculean accomplishment.
Exit question: Is it worth pointing out that an award for a screenplay about lost innocence and the shallow, limited happiness of material goods was fought over by wealthy Los Angeles socialites and sold for almost $1 million?
The Associated Press contributed to this report.