Film Academy Sues Oscar Winner's Heir for Selling Statuette

Oscar Statues - P 2014

Oscar Statues - P 2014

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has lined up a new lawsuit, painting the picture of a cinematographer's heir who ignored bylaws by selling a statuette on eBay.

The statuette was awarded in 1953 to Robert Surtees for excellence in black-and-white cinematography for the film The Bad and the Beautiful, which starred Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner. More than 60 years later, the Film Academy is in court after Carol Surtees allegedly auctioned the statuette for $40,500.

The Academy makes its members agree that it has a "right of first refusal" if the statuettes are ever sold. To prevent a black market for the famous trophies, the Academy believes itself entitled to purchase the statuettes for $10 in the event they are ever sold. Previous lawsuits that have been filed include one against the heirs of Mary Pickford for selling her 1930 Oscar for best actress. The Academy is known to be litigious, going to court in the past over chocolate Oscar figurines and other knockoffs.

From time to time, Oscar statuettes have been appearing on eBay and the Academy has been taking a strong interest. For example, it sued two years ago over a stolen statuette given in 1979 to Aaron Rochin, who won an Oscar for his sound work on The Deer Hunter.

The latest lawsuit targets the Surtees family. Robert also worked on Ben-Hur while his son, Bruce, worked on many Clint Eastwood films including Dirty Harry and Escape From Alcatraz and was himself nominated for an Oscar for Lenny in 1974. Carol was the wife of Bruce, who died in 2012.

The Academy alleges that it sent a letter to Surtees on Dec. 5, spoke on the phone with her on Dec. 12, and despite reminders about the right of first refusal, the auction happened on or about that latter day. She's now being sued for breach of contract. The lawsuit also names John Does, who are being sued for alleged tortious interference. The Academy demands at least $40,500 in compensatory damages, punitive damages, and an order that the Oscar be put in a constructive trust, among other demanded relief.

The plaintiff is represented by Christopher Tayback and Ryan Keech at Quinn Emanuel.

Surtees couldn't be reached for comment.

Twitter: @eriqgardner