Art + Celebrity Gossip = My Favorite Thing

copyright Andy Warhol, 1980, 40 in x 40 in

Ryan O’Neal won custody of a painting that hung over his bed for almost 20 years. A jury decided that the Andy Warhol portrait of Farrah Fawcett belonged to O’Neal and not the University of Texas.

Long story short, Warhol was a friend to O’Neal and Fawcett and painted two slightly different versions of the painting, in the Pop Art style of his signature celebrity portraits like those of Marilyn Monroe. It was in 1980, when Farrah was the star of Charlie’s Angels, the number-one rated TV show. A pop culture sensation, Farrah’s portrait sitting was covered on TV by 20/20. Warhol gave one finished painting to Ryan, and one to Farrah. He was also friendly enough with them that he once decorated a tablecloth with doodles of their names.

The couple never married but were together for years. Even after breaking up in 1997, they co-parented their son fairly amicably. When Farrah died in 2009, Ryan was by her side and had been since she received the diagnosis.

Farrah’s will left her artwork to her alma mater, the University of Texas. After her death, Farrah’s Warhol was duly given to the school and the trustee of the estate also returned Ryan’s Warhol to him. The University didn’t know about the existence of the second Warhol, Ryan’s, until it was glimpsed in the background of a documentary about Farrah’s battle with cancer. The University sued him for it, saying that her property was willed to them and that they had no legal choice in the matter but to make sure her wishes were carried out. Fair enough.

At the trial, her inner circle of friends testified that it was common knowledge that the second Warhol was Ryan’s. On the other side, the University’s suit was driven by three men with an axe to grind: Farrah’s college boyfriend, a reality show producer who was miffed at having his participation in the above-mentioned reality show reduced, and a personal assistant of Farrah’s who had been fired. The producer will face defamation charges in the spring for, among other things, saying that Ryan stole the painting, and feeding rumors to the tabloids. Besides the tabloid nastiness, there was additional star power as well: Jaclyn Smith, one of Farrah’s Charlie’s Angels co-stars, appeared in court and on the courthouse steps to support Ryan.

Much of the suit turned on the reliability and motives of these witnesses, and also on Ryan’s own testimony. One holdout juror changed her mind after praying about the case at a nearby church during a lunch break. She returned believing that Warhol had gifted one painting to Farrah and one to Ryan. It was the same church where Farrah’s funeral was held.

I think this will become a Lifetime movie in less than three years.