LOS ANGELES — Sixty years after Judy Garland won a special Oscar for playing Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sued a memorabilia dealer on Friday to get the statuette back.
The academy claims in a Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit that a Los Angeles memorabilia shop called Star Wares cannot sell the Oscar--even though it was consigned there by Garland's ex-husband--because of an agreement the late actress signed in 1958.
But Star Wares owner Marcia Tysseling said she believes the sale is "perfectly legal" and blames the lawsuit on an overzealous academy, which is known for ferociously protecting the Oscar image.
"I think they've been after this [particular Oscar] for a long time," Tysseling said. "I'm just in the wrong place at the wrong time." According to the academy, which alleges breach of contract, the 1958 agreement with Garland gives it the right to buy the statuette for $10 before it is offered elsewhere.
Garland, the former Frances Gumm who endeared herself to a generation of Americans as Dorothy, a girl from Kansas who gets carried off to the magical kingdom of Oz by a twister in the 1939 film, was not nominated for an Oscar for her performance.
But the academy gave the then-teenage star a special Oscar anyway in 1940 "in recognition of her outstanding performance as a juvenile player during the past year."
The academy said that in 1958 Garland misplaced her gold statuette and asked for a new one. The academy said that it complied, but made her sign an agreement that if she wanted to sell it she would have to first offer it to them for $10.
Garland eventually found the original Oscar, and both statuettes went to her husband, Michael Sidney Luft, after her death in 1969 of an overdose of sleeping pills.
The academy said Luft tried to sell the duplicate at an auction in 1993, then "transferred possession" to Star Wares for resale--which it considers a breach of contract.
The organization said in the lawsuit that a sale of the Oscar by Star Wares would cause it to "suffer irreparable and incalculable damage to the Academy's reputation and goodwill associated with its . . . Oscar statuette."
"I am an intermediary between a willing seller and willing buyer," she said. "To the best of my knowledge this is a perfectly legal sale."