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A Big Legal Battle Over Garland's Mini Award


"In fact, that's what we would have done, put it in the hands of an heir who would have taken care of it," Davis says. "We said if we could confirm that Miss Luft has it, that would be fine. But she was out of the country, so we called the lawyer back and said, 'We're going to charge him with contempt of court if he doesn't give it back.' Then we got a call from Miss Luft's lawyer saying it was just delivered. He'd lied not only to us but to his own lawyer."

In May 2000, another Garland Oscar came on the market. This time the statuette, described as Garland's "original" Oscar, showed up on Nate's Autographs Web site with a price tag of $3 million and Sid Luft named as the source. When a fresh round of litigation ensued, Luft argued that this second statuette was a fake. (A court had already declared the original Oscar was subject to the winner's agreement.)

The academy got a temporary restraining order against the sale. But at a hearing, Luft said he didn't know whether Garland's original Oscar even existed, so the court denied the academy's request for an injunction. That inspired the academy to be more resourceful.

"Quite simply, we didn't think he was telling the truth," academy attorney David Quinto says, "and when somebody is willing to appear for deposition and say they're telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth and then lie to you, you've got to be creative."

In July 2000, the academy hired investigator Ronald Foster to pose as a memorabilia dealer hunting for Oscar statuettes. He approached Marcia Tysseling, the owner of a Hollywood memorabilia shop called Star Wares, who told him she'd heard that Luft was trying to sell Garland's Oscar. Foster said he was interested, so she acted as liaison, sending him a document that described the statuette as "the very Oscar that was received by Judy Garland."

Foster said he wanted an expert to appraise it, so in August, an appraiser hired by the academy verified the Oscar's authenticity in a meeting attended by Luft, Foster and Tysseling. With that evidence, the academy went back to court and obtained a second temporary restraining order against Luft.

This time, the academy argued that the award for sale was the original, which had somehow resurfaced. The academy said it had rights to the sale because it was covered by the 1958 agreement signed by Garland when she received her duplicate.

In a sworn declaration, Luft said he'd never authorized Nate Sanders of Nate's Autographs to sell Garland's Oscar on the Web, and that he believed the August meeting was being held so that he could meet a "high-profile producer who was interested in viewing an Oscar statuette and producing a film about my life with Judy Garland."

In an interview, Luft said the Oscar he brought to the meeting was a fake fashioned by a friend to cheer him up when he was in the hospital a decade ago. That didn't sway the Superior Court, which declared in January that this Oscar was the original, ordering Luft to hand it to the academy. Meanwhile, the academy had filed suit in federal court saying that even if it were true that the statuette was a phony as Luft claimed, it still fell under the academy's control, because the imitation infringed on the academy's copyright.

The academy won the federal suit on March 11, and Luft was ordered to give the academy any copies he might have. Asked whether he plans to surrender the statuette, Luft seemed undecided.

"This is harassment," he said. "They were groping and this all started with them signing Judy's name to the bylaws agreement, and if I may say so, I have all my marbles and you can't fool me. They want to settle this thing, and I've had enough of their nonsense, as I call it. In all probability I might [give the statuette to the academy]. I don't know if I want to take them on some more."

Luft's claims of harassment don't hold sway with Davis.

"Talk to Lorna," Davis says. "Ask if she thinks we're harassing her father. The two daughters of Judy Garland think he's behaving in a beastly way." The daughters, Lorna Luft and Liza Minnelli, couldn't be reached for comment, but Luft himself acknowledged that he and Lorna have been at loggerheads over Garland's Oscar.

"Lorna wanted it," Luft says. "As a matter of fact, Lorna set me up at a luncheon and had Bruce Davis next to her table, and he testified at this first trial that he was privy to our conversation. Can you imagine my own daughter setting me up? I said to Lorna I needed the money. She said, why didn't you come to me if you needed money?"

Why all this sturm und drang over a little statuette? The academy considers such litigation key to protecting its claim to Hollywood's most valuable and marketable resource: image.

"If you could buy a replica in stores and they didn't protect it, it wouldn't keep the dignity it has," says Robert Osborne, Oscar historian, Hollywood Reporter columnist and Turner Classic Movies host. Notes Davis: "It is a kind of romantic notion that there ought to be some small class of things, even in Hollywood, that aren't for sale, that you have to earn rather than buy them."

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