Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" Oscar returns to auction

LOS ANGELES Mon Dec 12, 2011 2:44pm EST

The Oscar awarded to Orson Welles for Best Original Screenplay for his 1941 film ''Citizen Kane'' is shown at Sotheby's in New York October 12, 2007. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The Oscar awarded to Orson Welles for Best Original Screenplay for his 1941 film ''Citizen Kane'' is shown at Sotheby's in New York October 12, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Orson Welles' Oscar for writing "Citizen Kane" -- regarded as one of the best films ever made -- is going up for auction again later this month in a hot market for Hollywood memorabilia.

Los Angeles auction house Nate D. Sanders said on Monday it was selling the best screenplay Academy Award statuette won by Welles in 1942.

Although tarnished by age, the Oscar will carry a reserve price of between $600,000 and $1 million when it goes under the hammer on December 20, auction house spokesman Sam Heller said.

The statuette -- the only Oscar given to "Citizen Kane" -- has a storied history and failed to meet its undisclosed reserve price when it was last up for auction at Sotheby's New York in 2007. At that time it was expected to sell for around $1 million.

But the current seller, who wishes to remain anonymous, and the auctioneer believe times have changed for the better when it comes to selling Hollywood memorabilia.

Marilyn Monroe's iconic ivory dress from "The Seven Year Itch" sold for $4.6 million at a Beverly Hills auction in June, while the red and black leather jacket won by pop star Michael Jackson in his "Thriller" music video went for $1.8 million earlier this year.

"There has been so much movie memorabilia that has been selling for high prices. People are just willing to spend a lot of money to buy these things, whether as an investment or as a collector," Heller said.

Heller said bidders for good Hollywood memorabilia come from as far afield as China, Japan and the Middle East.

Welles' screenplay Oscar has a story worthy of a Hollywood movie in its own right. The filmmaker had lost it, but it resurfaced after his death in 1985 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' daughter Beatrice sued and won back ownership of the golden statue. But she was then sued herself by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which gives out the awards, when she tried to auction the Oscar in 2003.

After a legal battle, Beatrice Welles was given the right to dispense of the Oscar, and she sold it to a California nonprofit called the Dax Foundation, who in turn tried unsuccessfully to auction it in 2007.

In a bid to stop public sales, the Academy in 1950 introduced an agreement that banned winners from selling their Oscars to anyone but the Academy for the nominal sum of $1.

But several pre-1950s Oscars have reached the auction block in recent years, including the best picture Oscar for the 1939 film "Gone with the Wind" that was sold for a record $1.54 million in 1999 to Michael Jackson.

"Citizen Kane", a 1941 drama about the ruthless pursuit of power, which Welles also directed and starred in, regularly tops U.S. and British lists of the greatest film of all time.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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