Jurors deciding the fate of Oscars awarded to silent film star Mary Pickford were treated during the trial's opening Wednesday to a taste of Hollywood, complete with props, fancy visuals and a little intrigue.
Pickford was part of early Hollywood's royalty and a founding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which presented her two Academy Awards over her lifetime.
Heirs of a woman married to Pickford's third husband, actor and band leader Buddy Rogers, hope to sell a statuette given to the actress for her performance in 1929's "Coquette." They claim their mother, Beverly Rogers, wanted the Oscar sold and the money donated to charity.
They also claim they are not bound to academy restrictions barring the sale of honorary Oscars awarded later to Pickford and Rogers.
But the academy has sued to stop any sale, claiming that Pickford agreed to rules allowing the organization to purchase the award back for $10. They say they are trying to protect their most important symbol.
Just in case anyone needed a reminder what that is, academy lawyers had placed a pair of Oscar statuettes on a table, the little gold men directly facing the jury box.
To explain the case — and Pickford's importance to a jury comprised mostly of people too young to remember her work — Wednesday's opening statements featured a lengthy biography of the actress known as "America's Sweetheart."
Brangelina of early Hollywood
Before her marriage to Rogers, Pickford was the wife of Douglas Fairbanks, an influential actor, director and producer.
Academy attorney Chris Tayback likened the pair to a contemporary power couple. "They were comparable to Brad and Angelina," Tayback said.
To help jurors follow the story of Pickford's life and the journey of her Oscars, Tayback displayed photos of the actress, images of documents with highlighted passages and even a timeline onto a large screen near jurors. He also played the complete presentation of an honorary Oscar given to Pickford in 1976 in her lavish Beverly Hills home, which was a wedding gift from Fairbanks.
It was that award — and a signature attributed to Pickford on a document agreeing not to sell any of her Oscars — that the academy claims gives it the right to block any sale.
Attorneys for Rogers' heirs said Wednesday that they will introduce testimony casting doubt on whether Pickford signed that agreement, and contend that Rogers' heirs aren't bound to it anyway because they're not heirs to Pickford's estate.
Besides, attorney Mark Passin told jurors, the agreement was signed after the 1976 Oscar was given to Pickford. "She already owned the statuette," he said, adding his contention that made the agreement "unenforceable."
Passin said Pickford would have likely approved of selling her best-actress Oscar and donating the proceeds to charity.