Orson Welles's Oscar for writing Citizen Kane – regarded as one of the best films ever made – sold for $861,542 on Tuesday as a hot market for Hollywood memorabilia helped erase memories of an unsuccessful auction four years ago.
The best screenplay statuette awarded in 1942 – the only Oscar given to Citizen Kane – 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.
Although tarnished by age, the Oscar, sold by Los Angeles auction house Nate D. Saunders on behalf of its anonymous seller, carried a reserve price of between $600,000 and $1-million. Bids came in from around the world in what the auction house termed an "exciting" sale.
"This is a testament to the popularity of Orson Welles and his magnum opus Citizen Kane," said Nate D. Saunders, owner of the auction house, in a statement.
Among the unsuccessful bidders at the auction was David Copperfield, who said he admires Welles not only for his cinematic successes, but because he, too, was a magician. Welles hosted Copperfield's first television special.
The Oscar has a story worthy of a Hollywood movie in its own right. Welles had lost it, but it resurfaced after his 1985 death 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's daughter Beatrice sued and won back ownership of the statue, but she was sued in turn by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which gives out the awards, when she tried to auction it in 2003.
After a legal battle, Beatrice Welles was given the right to dispose of the Oscar. She sold it to a California non-profit organization called the Dax Foundation, who 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 gone under the hammer in recent years, including the best picture Oscar for the 1939 film Gone with the Wind, which was sold for a record $1.54-million in 1999 to Michael Jackson.
Citizen Kane, a 1942 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.
In a sign of how heated the memorabilia market has become, auctions of Elizabeth Taylor's collection of jewels, gown, art and memorabilia broke records last week on their way to totaling more than $150-million worth of live and online sales, Christie's said on Monday.
With a file from Associated Press