Published: October 17, 2000
NEW YORK CITY – Fans and collectors from around the world took part in Doyle New York’s auction of property from the estate of James Cagney, and his wife, actress Frances Vernon. Bidders participated in the auction live in the salesroom, across America on the PAX television network and in Canada on the BRAVO cable network. In addition, approximately 50,000 bidders participated live over the Internet via www.ibidlive.tv, a record number for a live Internet auction, according to the firm.
The standing-room-only crowd in the salesroom, Internet bidders, and telephone bidders vied heavily for Cagney’s 1961 Bentley, his 1984 Presidential Medal of Freedom, a diamond engagement ring given to his wife, and a rare miniature version of the Oscar(r). Publicity stills and paintings by prominent American artists from the Cagney fine art collection were also offered. Of the 155 lots in the sale, 125 received bids from Internet bidders and 39 were sold to Internet buyers. The sale grossed $480,671 against a pre-sale estimate of $138,800 to $199,450.
One of the top lots was the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to Cagney in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan. The medal is America’s highest civilian award. A round of applause erupted when the medal, which was estimated at $1/1,500, fetched $51,750.
Bidders, however, were silent when Cagney’s Oscar(r) was offered; it was the only lot that went unsold. The Academy Award(r) was given to Cagney in 1942 for his role as the patriot showman George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and is one of a finite number that will ever be offered for sale. Since 1949, each Oscar(r) recipient has had to sign an agreement with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences stating that prior to its sale, the recipient or their heirs must first offer the Academy the opportunity to buy the statuette back for $1.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has always considered the value of the Award to be in its professional honor. According to auction house president Kathleen M. Doyle, “It appears that the global audience respected the Academy’s view that the real value of the Oscar(r) is in its professional distinction, and that therefore no profit should be made by its sale. It’s unfortunate that the Frances and James Cagney Foundation will not benefit from the sale of the statuette.”
Filming began on Yankee Doodle Dandy on December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese raid on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. Cagney received this award during the height of World War II at a time when the “Greatest Generation” was making its mark on world history. “The Academy honored Mr. Cagney with this Oscar(r) at a pivotal moment in American history,” continued Doyle.
Artwork from the Cagney collection of fine art drew some surprises. A painting by prominent American artist Ada Walter Shulz (1870-1928), “Girl Holding a Duck,” fetched $37,375 against a $5/7,000 estimate. In addition, regionalist New England painter Paul Starrett Sample’s (1896-1974) canvas, “Mountain School,” reached $46,000 from an $8/12,000 estimate.
Other auction highlights included Cagney’s 1961 Bentley S2 four-door Saloon that sold for $64,400 to a Texan collector, and a 6.42-carat diamond engagement ring that James Cagney gave to his wife, actress Frances Vernon, which realized $34,500. A rare miniature version of the Oscar(r) that served as a table decoration at the 1938 Awards ceremony brought $4,313.
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