Farrah Fawcett: What makes a Hollywood legend
Edgar Cruz (The Philippine Star) - December 22, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - With Ryan O’Neal given ownership by the U.S. court that tried the case of the controversial Farah Fawcett portrait by Andy Warhol, it effectively puts his lover of three decades in the rank of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, the original Hollywood legends immortalized by the Pop Art master in photoscreen on canvas.

With her high-demand poster in a red swimsuit and the mass iterations of the Farah-flip, Fawcett was private investigator Jill Munroe in Charlie’s Angels, wife to Bionic Man Lee Majors. Then she was girlfriend of Hollywood’s much-desired baby-faced actor, O’Neal. An icon of the ‘70s, Fawcett now truly deserves more than stardom.

In 1980, Warhol asked O’Neal whether Fawcett would be interested in being the subject of a portrait which, predictably, she accepted. He requested two versions since he and Fawcett kept separate homes in the West Coast. O’Neal lives in a beach house in Malibu while Fawcett on a two-bedroom condo, The Wilshire, in Santa Monica.

Warhol took two shots by Polaroid of Fawcett in a brief shoot at his New York studio, The Factory. “It didn’t take long. Doing her hair took longer than taking the pictures,” O’Neal recalled.

Warhol finished its two versions within two weeks. The portrait with O’Neal was the subject of a court case between him, and the University of Texas (UT) in Austin, Texas which claimed ownership.

Fawcett attended the university to study arts in the ‘60s so she bequeathed her artwork collection to it upon her death in June 25, 2009. A Warhol portrait was not turned over and currently remains over O’Neal’s bed in Malibu. He contends the artwork was given to him as a gift by Warhol and did not belong to Fawcett when she died.

The complaint of University of Texas stated via the Fawcett living trust, “Fawcett left all of her artwork and objects of art to UT Austin.” However, it does not specify the items contained therein.

The actor’s first witness was Mela Murphy, a close friend of Fawcett who was also her hairstylist, who testified that the actress told her in 1994 that one of the Warhol portraits belonged to O’Neal.

O’Neal told a jury that he owns the Warhol portrait and admitted that he had removed the artwork from her condo after her death. A paparazzi filmed the act. O’Neal went into Fawcett’s residence after leaving the hospital on the day she died. “The painting is mine,” the actor testified.

O’Neal claimed that he discussed removing the portrait with a trustee charged with carrying out Fawcett’s will. Then how come the portrait in question ended up in Fawcett’s possession?

O’Neal revealed that about a 1997 incident that shocked Fawcett when she caught him in bed at his Malibu pad with 25-year-old Leslie Ann Stefanson, star of The General’s Daughter. The painting hanged on the wall during the incident.

Here lied the crucial difference between testimonies. The school claims Fawcett took the portrait in disgust of O’Neal’s polygamy. He countered asking her to keep it, reasoning out it makes his other girlfriends uncomfortable.

O’Neal stood pat the portrait was always his. “The paintings had traveled back and forth between our houses (over the years),” he testified.

Fawcett put up the Warhol portraits in her living room and the other at her bedroom door and remained there until her death. The disputed one was seen hanging in her room in a video shot of her dying days.

Not surrendered to the university, it hired a private investigator to locate it. But it was not a hard search. The first episode of Ryan & Tatum: The O’Neals broadcasted on The Oprah Winfrey Network, provided the clue. The portrait appears in the background at O’Neal’s home.

Craig Nevius, Fawcett’s close friend, leaked that Tatum’s autobiography, Found, also gives a clue to its whereabout. She writes: “On every wall, there are pictures of us and the rest of the family in our golden days. The original poster from Paper Moon, Andy Warhol’s portrait of Farrah.”

Last minute witnesses, Fawcett’s chiropractor and a former nurse’s assistant, also disclosed the actress told them one of the portraits belonged to O’Neal.

O’Neal, on his part, said that “all of Farrah’s wishes expressed in her will have been fulfilled.” The actress left a fortune valued at $6M. Redmond Fawcett O’Neal, Fawcett’s and O’Neal’s son who was jailed for drug offenses in 2009, received $4.5M but none to O’Neal.

Basing her appraisal on reviewing photos of the Fawcett portraits and auction prices for other Warhol artworks, New York art appraiser Lee Drexler estimated its value at $12M. She based it on the actress’ remarkable fame and beauty and Warhol’s auction record which stays hot sellers, averaging at $7.5M.

O’Neal’s attorney, Todd Eagen, questioned this appraisal. He countered the university had insured its Warhol for around $600,000 while the portrait with O’Neal was appraised for less than $1M in 2009.                                 

The university has said if it wins, it plans to display both Fawcett portraits in its Blanton Museum of Art. O’Neal told jurors that on his part, he intends to leave the portrait to his son with Fawcett, Redmond.

O’Neal was at Fawcett’s hospital bedside in Los Angeles when she died. He claimed proposing to her which she allegedly accepted and scheduled when she got well. Fawcett’s death overtook this marriage plan.               

O’Neal has countersued to recover a tablecloth in the university’s possession. Addressed to him and Fawcett, Warhol drew hearts on it. O’Neal expressed a moment of tenderness, “I feel closer to Farah when I’m surrounded by her possessions.”

The jury determined this item was jointly owned by the couple and will decide what should happen to it during a January hearing.

Its rightful owner now determined, this much-publicized trial has done its part to make Fawcett a certified Hollywood legend and increase the value of her portraits by Warhol.

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