Hollywood stars, living and dead. A portrait of an iconic actress by an iconic artist. A possible love triangle involving a former University of Texas football player.
These are among the ingredients of a civil trial, set to begin Wednesday in Los Angeles, in which UT will face off against actor Ryan O’Neal.
The university has sued O’Neal in an effort to force him to turn over an Andy Warhol portrait of the late actress Farrah Fawcett, who bequeathed her artwork to her alma mater. A jury will have to decide who owned the portrait: Fawcett, in which case UT gets it, or O’Neal, in which case it can remain in his Malibu beach house.
“It’s going to be an interesting and fun case to try,” said David Beck, a lawyer for UT. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Warhol produced two nearly identical paint and silk-screen portraits of Fawcett in 1980. UT contends that Warhol gave both to Fawcett. O’Neal says the artist, who died in 1987, gave one to him and one to her.
At the time of Fawcett’s death from cancer in 2009, both hung on the walls of her Wilshire Boulevard condominium in Los Angeles. One now hangs in UT’s Blanton Museum of Art. O’Neal, who was at her side when she died, took possession of the near-twin with permission of the overseer of Fawcett’s trust.
Warhol was one of the most recognized artists of the 20th century, and his works have sold in recent years for hundreds of thousands of dollars to tens of millions apiece. UT’s lawyers contend that the disputed portrait is worth at least $12 million, but O’Neal’s lawyers say its value is far lower.
Fawcett, a native of Corpus Christi, trained as an artist at UT, although she didn’t graduate. She rose to television and silver-screen fame in the 1970s with commercials, pin-up posters, a starring role in the Charlie’s Angels TV series and in movies.
O’Neal starred in the 1960s TV soap opera Peyton Place, as well as in such movies as Love Story. He wants one of the other Charlie’s Angels, Jaclyn Smith, to testify on his behalf, but UT is opposing that on grounds that adding her to the witness list at this late stage would amount to “sandbagging.”
Judge Ernest Hiroshige of the state Superior Court in Los Angeles will decide whether to allow her testimony. Also up to the judge is whether to grant UT’s request to bar any mention of two drug-related felony convictions, in 1972 and 1982, of one of its key witnesses, Greg Lott, who played quarterback and wingback for the Longhorns, lettering in 1965 and 1966. References to Lott’s decades-old “mistakes” could “unduly prejudice” the jury against him, the university claims.
UT says in court papers that Lott and Fawcett had a romantic relationship while they were in college and again from 1998 until she died. Fawcett’s will left $100,000 to Lott, who lives in Lubbock, where he owns a car wash.
O’Neal’s lawyers say the actor and Fawcett were romantically involved for 30 years up to her death. Not surprisingly, the dueling claims and the possibility of a love triangle have been rich fodder for Hollywood gossip sheets.
As for the disputed portrait, O’Neal’s lawyers acknowledge in court papers that it was displayed at Fawcett’s residence for long periods over the years, “in part to protect it from the ocean air at Malibu.” But it was “usually displayed” at O’Neal’s beach house, they say.
Also in dispute is a Warhol drawing on a cloth napkin. According to court papers, it features a montage of hearts and was inscribed by the artist “To Farrah F. and Ryan O.” The napkin was sent to UT after Fawcett died, but O’Neal contends that it rightfully belongs to him.
The lawsuit “is a symptom of UT’s greed which apparently knows no bounds,” O’Neal’s lawyers wrote in one court filing.
Randa Safady, a vice chancellor for the UT System, said the university is simply honoring Fawcett’s wishes, which officials didn’t know about until after her death.
“It is indisputable that in Ms. Fawcett’s living trust, she made the University of Texas at Austin the sole beneficiary of all of her works of art, including all of her artwork and all objects of art that she owned, for charitable and educational purposes,” said Safady, who is expected to testify. “We therefore have a legal and fiduciary responsibility to pursue fulfillment of the requests outlined in Ms. Fawcett’s trust instrument.”
The trial is expected to last about two weeks. So who should get the painting? Let me know on my facebook page by clicking here.