Questions Over Upcoming CITIZEN KANE Academy Award Auction

Orson Welles Citizen Kane

The Academy Award given for Orson Welles co-scripting the iconic Citizen Kane is going up for auction at the end of the month. But if you want to bid, you better have a big wallet as the starting bid on the Oscar statuette is a quarter of a million dollars. ($312,500 once the buyer’s premium is added in.)

Although there may be some questions as to the Oscar statuette’s availability to be auctioned in the first place.

Heritage Auctions will be offering the statuette as one of a number of Orson Welles and Citizen Kane-related memorabilia in a Hollywood and entertainment themed auction scheduled to take place July 27th through the 29th. Other lots in the auction including items of from MGM’s 1939 classic The Wizard Of Oz, the costume robe worn by Charles Middleton as he played Ming the Merciless in the 1930s Flash Gordon serials, Maurice Binder’s original storyboards for the opening title sequence of the first James Bond film Dr. No and more.

The Oscar statue in question is actually the second one that the Academy has given out for Welles’s win. Welles was never really one for awards, and would often pretend that he never even won the Oscar for Citizen Kane. Upon his death in 1985, his daughter Beatrice wasn’t able to locate the statuette amongst the great director’s belongings. Beatrice petitioned the Academy for a replacement statue and was given it in 1988, under a proviso similar to one the one that the Academy instituted in 1950 prohibiting recipients of an Academy Award from selling the statue without first offering it back to the Academy.

Welles’s original Oscar eventually resurfaced in 1994 in the possession of cinematographer Gary Graver, who claimed that the director had given it to him as payment in 1974 when they were working on the film The Other Side Of The Wind. After some legal wrangling, the statue was returned to Beatrice Welles who put it up for auction in 2003 to help fund her continuing charitable work in animal rescue. The Academy objected to the auction and sued to stop it, claiming that the agreement that Beatrice Welles signed in 1988 covered the original Oscar as well. The judge disagreed and Beatrice Welles eventually sold the original Oscar to the California non-profit philanthropic organization The Dax Foundation. The Dax Foundation sold it at auction in December 2011, where an anonymous bidder paid $861,542 for it.

(For more on the convoluted tale of Orson Welles’s Academy Award statuette, read our 2022 feature piece here.)

As to how Welles’s 1988 replacement Oscar is now eligible for auction remains unclear.

The auction’s online catalog confirms in the lot description that this is the replacement Academy Award Beatrice Welles was given by the Academy in 1988. (Even without that confirmation, note that the base of the Oscar statuette in the online catalog photo as screencapped below is the more modern base still currently in use. The Oscar awarded in 1942 has a different base.) According to all reporting over the rediscovery and ultimate court case over the original Citizen Kane Oscar, Beatrice Welles should be unable to offer the replacement for auction as per the terms of the agreement she signed with the Academy in 1988.

Responding to an emailed inquiry about the Oscar statue’s eligibility to be sold, a spokesperson from Heritage Auctions replied –

As you know, as an auction house it is our custom and practice not to discuss or disclose consignor information, except to say that all consignors must represent and warrant that they have clear title and are able to offer the property at auction.

So while it is obvious that this is the 1988 replacement Academy Award given to Beatrice Welles, Heritage Auction can not confirm that she is the one placing it up for auction. Granted, it may be someone else who now has possession of the Oscar as sometimes post-1950 Oscars have been sold quietly and privately from a winner or their family to a private collector or even between private collectors. However, according to that winner’s agreement instituted by the Academy, they can still lay claim on an Oscar statue if such instances become public. So if Beatrice Welles sold the 1988 Oscar statue privately, it might not be enough to protect its new owner from the Academy coming attempting to halt the sale.

As of publication, it is eight days until the auction and the listing for the Academy Award is still live on Heritage Auctions’ website. It will be interesting to see what the week may bring.

Orson Welles Citizen Kane Academy Award Auction
Image via Heritage Auctions.
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About Rich Drees 7124 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty-five years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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