Orson Welles' award withdrawn from auction

They are only 13 inches tall and look, as Bette Davis once put it, like her ex-husband's backside, but those who will never win one would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to own one. However, Oscar is not for sale.

They are only 13 inches tall and look, as Bette Davis once put it, like her ex-husband's backside, but those who will never win one would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to own one. However, Oscar is not for sale.

Christie's in New York has withdrawn from auction the Oscar won by Orson Welles in 1941 for co-writing Citizen Kane. It had been expected to fetch up to $400,000 (£250,000) in Friday's sale.

Oscars are awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, whose regulation 10 states: "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 $1."

The rule applies to heirs of winners and those given one by a recipient. Everyone nominated has to agree to this, and the academy polices the rule vigilantly.

Welles won his Oscar not for directing the film that made him world famous (that year's award went to John Ford for How Green Was My Valley), but for the screenplay he co-wrote with Herman J Mankiewicz. Welles was still only 26 at the time. On his death in 1985, he left the Oscar to his third wife, Paola Mori, who died the next year. It passed to Beatrice Welles, their youngest daughter, and she offered it for sale at Christie's.

Despite the academy ban, Ms Welles apparently believed she did have the right to sell her father's Oscar. The rule was introduced in 1950, so he would never have had to agree to the $1 buy-back.

However, an academy spokesman, John Pavlik, said yesterday that Ms Welles had been provided with a replacement Oscar in the 1980s when the original went missing, and had then signed an agreement not to sell it or the original, should it turn up. It did turn up in London a few years ago, in the hands of an old colleague of Welles. Ms Welles regained it after legal action.

"We found out that there was a dispute so it has been withdrawn," said a Christie's spokeswoman yesterday.

Mr Pavlik admitted Oscars had been sold in the past - Ronald Colman's 1947 best actor prize for A Double Life went at Christie's last year for $175,000. But usually, he said, auction houses agreed to withdraw them.

Some winners gave their Oscar to a museum or their former school, he said, which was fine. The academy objected only to a sale.

Many felt Welles should have won the best director prize for his portrait of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst; the latter was so incensed he banned any mention of the film in his papers and tried to buy all the negatives and destroy them. There was also controversy as to authorship of the screenplay, which Welles initially claimed for himself. He shared the credit with Mankiewicz only after the Writers' Guild stepped in.

The origins of the Oscar name are clouded in myth. According to Oscar Fever, by Emanuel Levy, Bette Davis claimed it was her remark on the likeness of the statue to the backside of her then husband, Harman Oscar Nelson, that led to it being given his name. Another version is that the academy's former executive secretary, Margaret Herrick, remarked on her first day at work in 1931 that it resembled her uncle Oscar. The academy favours the Herrick account.


Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles

The GuardianTramp

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