Twelve ordinary people, some too young to remember when Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O’Neal were Hollywood’s golden couple, will now decide who owns an Andy Warhol portrait of the iconic blond beauty.
Warhol painted two portraits of Fawcett in 1980, after her breakout role on the TV hit series “Charlie’s Angels” made her America’s “It Girl.”
The question before the jury of six men and six women: Did Warhol give one portrait to O’Neal — the Oscar-nominated star of “Love Story” — or did he give them both to Fawcett?
The actress, who was 62 when she died of cancer in 2009, left all her artwork to the University of Texas, where she studied before being discovered by Hollywood.
The university, which already has one of the portraits, is suing O’Neal for the other. He is countersuing for a tablecloth covered with hearts and signed by Warhol.
Jurors received the case at 2:40 p.m. PT Monday after hearing closing arguments from attorneys for both sides.
The disputed portrait hangs over O’Neal’s bed in his Malibu beach house. He removed it from Fawcett’s Los Angeles condo a few days after she died, with permission from her estate’s trustee.
David Beck, a lawyer for the university, asked jurors to honor Fawcett’s wishes as expressed in a will leaving the university “all artwork and objects of art.” He alleged that O’Neal helped himself to the Warhol after learning she had left him nothing.
“Farrah Fawcett decided to leave all of her artwork to the University of Texas. We didn’t even know about it. They’re trying to get you to make Ryan O’Neal a beneficiary of her trust.
“Please, please speak for Farrah because she can’t speak for herself,” Beck urged.
But O’Neal’s lawyer, Marty Singer, countered that the university was being greedy. He told jurors that Fawcett’s original artwork still sits unseen in storage “in some basement catacomb.”
The Warhol the university received after her death wasn’t shown publicly until earlier this year, he added.
“This is an important case for Ryan O’Neal. This is not just a lawsuit about a painting. This is his life. This painting has been in his life for more than 30 years. Farrah Fawcett was the love of his life,” Singer said.
“I hope that everyone here that is entrusted with this decision will not allow the University of Texas to take this portrait away from him.”
Singer pointed out that half a dozen witnesses corroborated O’Neal’s story that Warhol made two portraits — one for each of them.
“Use your common sense,” he said. “Why would Farrah want two?”
O’Neal received support on Monday from a surprise courtroom visitor, Fawcett’s “Charlie’s Angels” co-star Jaclyn Smith.
“I think the most important thing is to imagine how Farrah would feel right now,” Smith told reporters outside court.
“As her good friend who’s known her way before ‘Charlie’s Angels,’ I really feel Farrah would want that portrait with Ryan and then on to (their son) Redmond.
“It’s her soul, it’s her eyes, it’s her hair, it’s everything she is. I always described Farrah as this 8×10 glossy — you know, the combination of this beautiful girl and the girl next door. And that portrait captures that.”
Warhol, who died in 1987, was a pop artist who rubbed elbows with — and churned out portraits of — the famous and fabulous. All together, his artwork has fetched $1.7 billion at auction, second only to Pablo Picasso. The average price for an original Warhol is now $7.8 million, according to testimony.
An appraiser for the university compared the Fawcett portrait to those Warhol painted of Debbie Harry and Brigitte Bardot and estimated its worth at $12 million. But an appraiser for O’Neal set its worth far lower, comparing it to Warhols of Pia Zadora and Dolly Parton and suggesting it would fetch $1 million at auction at most.
O’Neal, 72, provided the dramatic highlight of the three-week trial when he was asked what the portrait meant to him.
“I talk to it. I talk to her,” he said, his voice quaking with emotion. “It’s her presence in my life and her son’s life. We lost her. It would seem a crime to lose it.”
Redmond O’Neal testified about seeing both portraits in his parents’ homes over the years, but he was not permitted to tell jurors what it meant to him and his father.
Later, outside the courthouse, he reluctantly told reporters what he’d hoped to say on the witness stand.
“This portrait is a family heirloom,” the younger O’Neal said. “It has no money value to me. It’s sentimental. It’s to stay in the family. It’s a beautiful remembrance of my mom, and it belongs where it is.”
Fawcett studied art at the University of Texas in the late 1960s before a summer job led to roles in commercials. She posed in a red tank swimsuit for a poster that sold 12 million copies and was cast in 1976 in “Charlie’s Angels.” She met O’Neal in 1979 and embarked on a tumultuous 30-year romance with a bad-boy heartthrob known equally for his charm and volatile temper.
O’Neal, who starred with Mia Farrow in the steamy 1960s prime-time soap “Peyton Place” and with Ali MacGraw in the 1970 tearjerker “Love Story,” testified that he persuaded Fawcett to pose for Warhol in 1980 soon after the actors began seeing each other.
A producer for the TV news magazine “20/20” testified for the university that she introduced Warhol and Fawcett at a book party in Houston. She said she saw no sign of O’Neal at the party or at Warhol’s New York studio, known as The Factory, when Fawcett sat for the portrait. The show was doing a segment on Warhol at the time.
O’Neal said he was at both the party and the studio, and that Warhol painted the hearts on the tablecloth at the party. Indeed, the tablecloth is dedicated to Fawcett and “Ryan O’N,” and the words “Houston Texas” are written in a semicircle.
Breakup and reconciliation
The portrait in dispute wound up in Fawcett’s possession after she walked in on O’Neal in bed with another, much younger, woman in 1997 at the Malibu beach house.
O’Neal said he gave the portrait to Fawcett for safekeeping after his “young friend” complained she felt “uncomfortable” with “Farrah staring down at her.” Other witnesses said Fawcett took anything bearing her likeness from the beach house in the wake of the breakup.
After 1998, according to testimony, the portrait was seen in the guesthouse of Fawcett’s Brentwood home and at a Los Angeles storage facility. During the final years of her life, it hung outside her bedroom in her Wilshire Boulevard condominium. The other portrait — the one now hanging at the university’s Blanton Museum of Art — hung in her living room.
Ryan O’Neal, and his and Farrah Fawcett’s son, Redmond O’Neal, testified in the trial.
O’Neal said Fawcett forgave him and they reconciled in 2001 after he was diagnosed with leukemia. Although they never married, he and other defense witnesses said they were a couple and shared quarters at her condo and his beach house, and that he cared for her until she died.
Fawcett set up a living trust before her death, leaving all her artwork to her alma mater. She left more than $4 million to the couple’s son, Redmond, but nothing to O’Neal, according to testimony.
Superior Court Judge William MacLaughlin ruled that the case had nothing to do with Fawcett’s intentions. Instead, he instructed jurors to focus on who owned the disputed Warhol.
It is not an easy question to answer since the artist gave the portrait as a gift, both Fawcett and O’Neal have insured it, and it has never been sold — a point underscored by the correspondence between lawyers for the university and Fawcett’s trustee:
“In light of the unusual relationship and living arrangement between Ms. Fawcett and Mr. O’Neal and in light of the fact the Warhol works were not purchased, it may be impossible to ‘prove’ the ownership of the works in question by the kind of documentary evidence we lawyers like,” said one letter to the university from the trustee’s attorney.
The Warhol story
Both Warhols of Fawcett are 40-inch by 40-inch silkscreens of enlarged Polaroid photographs on canvas. Nearly identical, they show Fawcett in three-quarter profile, with her eyes painted a vibrant greenish blue and her lips a shiny red.
O’Neal testified that Warhol agreed to make one portrait for him and one for Fawcett, and that the artist handed one to each of them after they were completed. Over the years, the couple repeated the story to friends, several of whom testified in O’Neal’s defense. O’Neal and those friends told the story in court, and they said Fawcett never disputed O’Neal’s account.
The University of Texas’ witnesses included a reality show producer who worked with Fawcett on the TV Land series “Chasing Farrah” and a documentary about her fight with cancer.
Craig Nevius testified that Fawcett never forgave O’Neal and never intended for him to have the portrait.
Greg Lott, a former college boyfriend, and Mike Pindel, a former personal assistant, also supplied information to the university and testified on its behalf.
O’Neal’s lawyers, Singer and Todd Eagan, portrayed the three men as hangers-on with axes to grind against O’Neal. They presented testimony from O’Neal, as well as Fawcett’s inner circle of friends, including hairstylist Mela Murphy and Alana Stewart, the former wife of actor George Hamilton and rocker Rod Stewart.
Stewart, who said Fawcett was her best friend, said she always considered the second Warhol to be O’Neal’s.
At one point, according to testimony, Fawcett told another friend that there were just five people in the world she could really trust. She did not name any of the university’s witnesses, but Murphy, Stewart and O’Neal made the list.