Wednesday, December 17, 2014

You can't refuse to own an Oscar. You don't really own it.

Ownership is an odd concept. When you buy software, you don't own it; you receive a license to use it. That license usually doesn't let you mucky about with the source code.

And even if you truly "own" something, there may be substantial restrictions on its use which effectively mean that you don't really own it.

Take a particular statue that is manufactured by R.S. Owens & Company in Chicago - the statue that goes by the nickname "Oscar," but is formally known as the Academy Award of Merit. You see people getting the award, and carrying it off the stage. But what happens after that?

Let's say that a few years have elapsed. Let's say your grandfather actually won the award. Let's say you're short on money. What then?

Take the case of Cyrus Todd, the grandson of late producer Michael Todd. In 1989, Cyrus Todd found himself nearly broke, so he reportedly decided to sell his grandfather’s 1956 Best Picture Oscar for Around the World in 80 Days. For help, Todd turned to Malcolm Willits, a movie-memorabilia expert and owner of the Collector’s Bookstore in Hollywood, Calif.

However, there's a teeny complication. When Michael Todd won that Oscar in 1956, he signed an agreement.

Since 1950, the Academy has required Oscar winners to sign an agreement stipulating that neither they–nor their heirs–will sell their statuettes without first offering to sell them back to the Academy for a buck. Refuse to sign, and the Academy keeps the statuette. “They’re not tchotchkes to be bought off of a shelf,” sniffs an academy spokesman.

In the case of Cyrus Todd, the Academy got a court order to block any sale.

And the Academy keeps on fighting Oscar sales, although apparently the resale price of the Oscar has gone up.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sued an heir of cinematographer Robert Surtees, claiming the right to buy Surtees' 1953 Oscar for $10, not the $40,500 for which it was offered on eBay.

Of course, the whole thing doesn't matter if you never win an Oscar in the first place - or if you win an Oscar and refuse it.

On March 5, 1973, Marlon Brando declined the Academy Award for Best Actor for his gut-wrenching performance as Vito Corleone in "The Godfather"....

On the evening of March 5, when Liv Ullman and Roger Moore read out the name of the Best Actor award recipient, neither presenter parted their lips in a smile. Their gaze fell on a woman in Apache dress, whose long, dark hair bobbed against her shoulders as she climbed the stairs.

Moore extended the award to Littlefeather, who waved it away with an open palm. She set a letter down on the podium, introduced herself, and said:

"I'm representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you ... that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry —"

Obviously Brando's refusal was not a rousing endorsement of capitalism, but I'm waiting for the day when someone - either someone who portrays a businessperson on film, or someone who is a businessperson in real life - ascends the podium and gives the following Best Actor/Best Actress speech:

While the Academy makes a big show of giving these Oscars away, the truth is that they retain the right to purchase the Oscar back in the future for a mere ten dollars. I will no longer participate in this cover-up, which represents the way in which the film industry continues to rip off the actors and actresses who make billions of dollars for them.

Of course, anyone who rejected a Best Actor or Best Actress award would never work in the town of Hollywood again.

Unless said person had the heft of Marlon Brando.
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