The Oscar before it was auctioned off June 23 by Briarbrook Auctions at the Varnum Armory in East Greenwich. Credit: EG News
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences filed suit Tuesday against the heirs of Joseph Wright and the EG-based Briarbrook Auctions over the sale of an Oscar statuette for $79,200 at auction June 23, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Wright was awarded the Oscar in 1943 for color and art direction on the film “My Gal Sal,” which starred Rita Hayworth and Victor Mature.
The suit accuses the Wright heirs, Briarbrook and the undisclosed buyer of violating the Academy’s by-laws, which prohibit members from selling their Oscars without first offering it to the Academy for $10. The suit contends that prohibition extends to heirs.
The sale took place during a live auction at the Varnum Armory on Main Street in East Greenwich. The winning bid came by phone.
Nanci Thompson, owner of Briarbrook Auctions, said she had not yet been served and only heard about the suit when a reporter from The Hollywood Reporter reached her at 11 p.m. Tuesday. Thompson vehemently denies having done anything wrong.
“What I can say, we did everything right. We did our research,” said Thompson. “There have been dozens of other Oscars sold … but for some reason they’ve chosen to make an example of me.”
Wright’s second Oscar, for color art direction for My Gal Sal, is being auctioned off by Nate D. Saunders auction house in California, with bidding open until July 31. The same auction house sold 15 pre-1951 statuettes for a total of $3 million in 2012. The best picture Oscar for the 1939 film Gone With the Wind was sold to singer Michael Jackson in 1999 for $1.54 million.
“The ‘Oscar’ was never intended as an article of trade,” the lawsuit reads. “As mandated by the by-laws since 1951, members of the Academy who received an ‘Oscar’ statuette cannot sell the statuette without according the Academy a right of first refusal to purchase it.”
According to the suit, the Academy sent Briarbrook Auctions an email June 23, informing the auction house of the Academy’s right of first refusal “and therefore, Briarbrook had no right to auction the Wright ‘Oscar.’”
It further states the Academy tried to reach Briarbrook by phone but the recipient hung up upon learning it was the Academy and subsequent calls went to voicemail.
Thompson said Wednesday she only heard from the Academy on the day of the auction and that she didn’t get the email until after the auction.
“We did our due diligence,” she said, noting that Wright got two Oscars, both several years before winners had to sign the right of first refusal agreement. “I know we’re right…. They hate Oscars being sold, but they can’t stop it because there’s nothing wrong with it.”