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Treasure in the eye of the beholder

A 1930s Oscar finds no takers so far among the items up for grabs at a Hollywood estate sale.

March 25, 2007|Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writer

The early morning browsers at the estate sale on Miller Drive found the typical crystal, dining room set, Wedgwood collection -- and, in the jewelry case, an Oscar for best supporting actor, on sale for $150,000.

At first glance, it looked too small to be an Oscar. A shopper in a rush might miss it altogether. The figure holding the sword is shorter and a bit more squat than the statuettes given out today, and he stands next to an engraved plaque. But it's an older model.

"Presented to Joseph Schildkraut," it reads, "in recognition of his performance in 'The Life of Emile Zola,' 1937."

This is Hollywood, and one never knows what memorabilia may show up at Saturday garage sales.

But even here on the steep, twisting streets of the Hollywood Hills, Oscars are not a common sale item. On Saturday morning, no one seemed in a rush to buy it. The hot items seemed to be the furniture: the dining room set, the upstairs vanity, the yellow chaise longue.

Some shoppers said they wouldn't want it, even if they had the money.

"I didn't win it," said Mahnaz Hendifar of Los Angeles, who was shopping for glassware instead. "That Oscar means something to the person who won it."

Only a few people interviewed outside the simple two-story home even recognized the name of Joseph Schildkraut, who took home the statuette for his performance as Captain Alfred Dreyfus.

But Evelyn Kilbrick, a neighbor and self-described film buff, said she went to the sale because she knew Schildkraut's work, and, besides, she is looking for an armoire for her television.

"Most people don't know who he is, or was," Kilbrick said. "He was never a Tom Cruise. But he's a nice-looking man, and he usually played the other guy." She remembers him best from "The Shop Around the Corner." A wonderful film, she said.

Schildkraut, the son of actor Rudolf Schildkraut, may be best known today for his role as Otto Frank in the 1959 film "The Diary of Anne Frank," which he called the culmination of his 60-year career.

He also had roles in dozens of other films, including "Orphans of the Storm," "The Three Musketeers" and "Flame of the Barbary Coast." He performed on Broadway and appeared in a well-known "Twilight Zone" episode in 1962 called "The Trade-Ins."

Schildkraut died at 67 in 1964, leaving behind his third wife, Leonora Schildkraut, who owns the Miller Drive house where the three-day estate sale is being held. She is a former music editor whose radio broadcasts for children became well known.

It was her choice to sell the statuette, said Wendy M. Gerdau, owner of Treasures Estate Sales, which is holding the sale.

"She has been the keeper of the Oscar for many, many years, and it's time for someone else to enjoy it," Gerdau said.

Schildkraut was known as an intellectual, and his extensive collection of records and books has been donated to USC, she said.

Leonora Schildkraut could not be reached for comment Saturday, nor could a spokeswoman for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which sponsors the awards.

Historically, academy officials have frowned on the sale of Oscar statuettes. Since 1950, they have asked all Oscar recipients to sign an agreement stating that the first right of purchase goes to the academy, for the price of $1.

In one well-known case, Beatrice Welles, the daughter of Orson Welles, fought to be able to sell her father's Oscar as co-writer for "Citizen Kane." Christie's auction house withdrew it from sale in 2003 after the academy raised objections.

The rules haven't stopped the buying and selling of the statuettes awarded before 1950. Ronald Colman's best acting award for the 1947 film "A Double Life" sold at Christie's for $147,500 in 2002. In 1999, Michael Jackson paid $1.54 million for the 1939 best picture Oscar for "Gone With the Wind." Steven Spielberg has bought several Oscars and returned them to the academy.

As of Saturday evening, Schildkraut's Oscar was still for sale.

Kilbrick, who would not give her age -- "senior citizen would be preferable," she said -- bought only a china hors d'oeuvre dish.

She said she enjoyed viewing the items in Schildkraut's house, including the art prints and the baby grand piano given to him at age 13. It was rather like a museum, she said.

"You just got that feeling of what it might have been like for them in those times," Kilbrick said. "It's a little piece of Hollywood, old-time Hollywood."


Times researcher John Jackson contributed to this report.

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