Share This Page

Ryan O'Neal, Fawcett's alma mater duke it out over Warhol portrait

| Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 6:48 p.m.

AUSTIN — 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 on Wednesday in Los Angeles in which the University of Texas 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 decide who owned the portrait: Fawcett, in which case the university 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 the university. “I'm looking forward to it.”

Warhol produced two nearly identical paint and silk-screen portraits of Fawcett in 1980. The university contends that Warhol gave both to Fawcett. O'Neal says the Pittsburgh native 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 the University of Texas' 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. The university'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 the University of Texas, 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. The university, however, is opposing that on grounds that adding Smith 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 the university'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.

The university 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, Texas, 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.

Another dispute involves 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 the university after Fawcett died, but O'Neal contends that it rightfully belongs to him.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.