Lawsuit Nixes Auction of Valerie Harper's Emmy Awards

Even in our topsy-turvy world of coronavirus chaos, one thing stands firm: thou shall not sell old Emmy awards on the open market.

The United States District Court serving the Central District of California has issued a temporary restraining order on behalf of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences against Julien’s Auctions. The brokers of pop culture artifacts were planning to put four statuettes awarded to the late Valerie Harper up for bid at their “Hollywood: Legends & Explorers” event. Harper won the Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Comedy three years in a row for the role of Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, then won the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for the spin-off Rhoda.

Online bidding had already begun, according to The Hollywood Reporter, with numbers reaching as high as $8,000 for each prize. That’s when the TV Academy argued that the sale of Harper’s trophies would cause damage to the integrity of the Emmys, charging that the group's “economic existence depends on the exclusivity and achievement symbolized by possession of an Emmy statuette.”

While you might think that when someone wins something it then becomes their business (or their estate's business) to do with it what they damn well please, technically the Academy merely gives the awards “on loan.” Though winners may keep the lovely paperweights for life, and then pass them on to their heirs, the TV Academy is technically the owner.

“The Television Academy retains title and has a policy that copies of the Statuettes cannot be sold,” attorney Eric Bakewell wrote. “It would be unfathomable that any winner in a high profile acting category (much less an individual who has won multiple awards in a high profile acting category) would be unaware of the policy,” his statement continued.

Emmy Awards from 1978 onward have been issued with physical notices restating this policy. Harper’s awards, however, are from 1975 and earlier, thus leading to some gray areas.

The TV Academy has posted a $15,000 bond to Julien’s, which would be used to cover the auction house’s cost claims for advertising and potential repetitional damages.

Meanwhile Julien’s “Hollywood Legends & Explorers” weekend seems to be going well, with a printed Marilyn Monroe eulogy from Joe DiMaggio netting $24,320.

This article originally appeared on Vanity Fair.


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