Joan Fontaine estate pulls Oscar sale under threat of lawsuit

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 11, 2014 7:40 PM

By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The estate of actress Joan Fontaine, who died a year ago aged 96, withdrew her Oscar from a much-anticipated auction when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences threatened to sue over its sale, representatives of the estate said on Thursday.

Christie's auction house had said it expected the Oscar to fetch $200,000 to $300,000, with proceeds earmarked for the Monterey, California SPCA, an animal protection group, in line with Fontaine's wishes.

Oscars rarely come up for auction because, since 1950, the Academy has required that winners, their heirs or estates not sell an Oscar without first offering it to the Academy for $1.

Fontaine won the 1941 best actress Academy Award for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's thriller "Suspicion," opposite Cary Grant. She was the only actor to win an Oscar for a Hitchcock film, and at the time was the youngest-ever best actress winner.

"The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was unmoved in the pleadings of all involved, and announced they would file suit if the sale continued," representatives for the estate said in a statement, which noted that Fontaine's Oscar was awarded well before the now-required legal agreement regarding sales.

"We feel that to fight this promised legal suit against the estate (and SPCA), everyone except the lawyers would lose," the statement added, in explaining the cancellation of the sale.

"The Academy, its members and the many film artists and craftspeople who've won Academy Awards believe strongly that Oscars should be won, not purchased," the Academy said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, despite our objections, we don't have the legal means of stopping the sale of certain statuettes, including this one."

Noel Beutel, a senior trustee for Fontaine's estate, responded: "They (the Academy) told us they will sue us if we sell it."

(Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Sandra Maler and Clarence Fernandez)