Liz Taylor: Leggo My Van Gogh!

Actress Elizabeth Taylor has filed suit to claim ownership of a painting that has been in her possession for more than 40 years. In 1963 Taylor's father purchased Vincent van Gogh's "View of the Asylum of Saint-Remy" for her at a London auction for $257, 600. But a Canadian family is claiming that the painting was taken from their German ancestor Margarete Mauthner by the Nazis during World War II.

Under the 1998 federal Holocaust Victims Redress Act, governments are to facilitate the return of private property pillaged by the Hitler regime to the owners or their heirs. In the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles on May 25, which seeks a court declaration that she is the work's rightful owner, Taylor's attorney's did acknowledge that Mauthner and her family were forced to give up property and homes by the Nazis, but no specific information about the painting could be found. Taylor herself said in a statement last month that she has "a tremendous amount of sympathy" for those who lost possessions during the war, but that she has "not been presented with any information that suggests the painting was ever in Nazi possession."

Taylor's attorney's have cited a German art book that suggests Mauthner owned several van Goghs, the last of which she sold to finance her family's move to South Africa in 1933. They claim art dealer Marcel Goldschmidt resold the painting in question to collector Alfred Wolf, who put it up for auction in 1963. Considering the estimated worth of the painting today, it's unlikely that the family will let the matter go without a fight. Appraisers have suggested it could go for $10-15 million at auction.

Claiming a 'Lion' Share

Ownership rights are also at the center of a lawsuit between the Walt Disney Co. and the descendants of a Zulu migrant worker in South Africa. In 1939, Solomon Linda wrote a song called "Mbube," better known here as the rewrite version by George David Weiss, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." According to copyright lawyer Owen Dean, Linda sold the rights, but British law in effect at the time dictated that they should have reverted to his heirs 25 years after his death in 1962.

The lawsuit charges Disney with copyright infringement for using the song in its mega-successful 1994 film "The Lion King." If the lawsuit is successful, South African proceeds from all Disney trademarks could be seized to pay off the $1.6 million being asked for in damages, as well as set the stage for future legal action against Disney and other countries.

Pete Seeger's recording of the song as "Wimoweh," titled from his mishearing of the original Zulu lyrics, was a hit for the Weavers in the early 1950s, and it broke into the Top 40 a decade later with a version by the Tokens.

End Notes

* Actor Jeffrey Jones was arrested and charged on Thursday for failing to register as a sex offender after moving to Sarasota, Fla., in March. The 57-year-old Jones, whose film credits include "Beetlejuice" and the role of school principal in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," pleaded no contest last July to a felony charge in connection with explicit photographs of a 14-year-old boy. He was sentenced to five years' probation, counseling, and a requirement to re-register as a sex offender within 48 hours of any moves.

* Alexandria resident Sonya Thomas broke a couple of records at the Nathan's Famous hot dog eating competition yesterday in New York. Nicknamed "The Black Widow," the 105-pound Thomas finished off 32 dogs, more than any other American, as well as any woman, in the contest's history. Claiming the top prize, known as the Mustard Yellow Belt, for the fourth year in a row was Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi of Nagano, Japan, wolfing down 531/2 in 12 minutes, besting his own record by three dogs.

-- Compiled from wire reports by Matt Kane

Out & About will return next week.

Elizabeth Taylor with her van Gogh in 1990; a family claims the painting was snatched by the Nazis.