Home Entertainment Pssst! Wanna buy an Oscar? The mysterious case of the missing Academy Awards

Pssst! Wanna buy an Oscar? The mysterious case of the missing Academy Awards

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Pssst! Wanna buy an Oscar? The mysterious case of the missing Academy Awards

In March 2000, three weeks earlier than the 72nd Academy Awards, that 12 months’s total cargo of Oscars – 55 individually marked, 24-carat-gold-plated statuettes – mysteriously disappeared en route from the producer in Chicago to Los Angeles. The story briefly grew to become a showbiz sensation: the Academy arrange a 24-hour tip line; the dealing with firm provided a $50,000 reward; the FBI grew to become concerned. However the culprits had been no grasp criminals: they turned out to be a few light-fingered however loose-tongued supply staff, who had chanced on the crate and thought they’d struck gold. They had been arrested inside days and the present went on.

Mary Pickford with her Oscar from the 2nd Academy Awards in 1930.
Mary Pickford along with her Oscar from the 2nd Academy Awards in 1930. {Photograph}: NBC/NBCUniversal/Getty Photos

Had these thieves in some way been capable of promote the Oscars on the open market, they may have been in for a shock. The going price for 55 new Oscar statues is $55. Since 1951, all Academy Award winners should signal an agreement that they “shall not promote or in any other case get rid of the Oscar statuette, nor allow it to be offered or disposed of by operation of legislation, with out first providing to promote it to the Academy for the sum of $1”. The rule additionally applies to anybody who receives or inherits another person’s Oscar.

Regardless of the Academy’s guidelines, there may be nonetheless a small however profitable commerce in Oscar statuettes. They’re secretly sought, purchased and offered by nameless collectors. Some have modified palms for tens of millions of {dollars}. And fairly just a few have disappeared with out a hint. The truth is, it’s a fairly murky world. There is no such thing as a official database of who owns every of the greater than 3,200 Oscars thus far awarded, or how usually they alter palms.

“I might say that roughly 150 statuettes have been offered both publicly or semi-secretly over time,” says Caroline Ashleigh, veteran auctioneer and appraisal knowledgeable. “For costs from roughly $10,000 to $1.5m. And roughly a dozen lawsuits have been filed over potential gross sales of Oscar statuettes in current historical past.”

The commerce started in earnest in 1993, when Vivien Leigh’s household auctioned her finest actress Oscar from Gone With the Wind for an attention-grabbing $563,000. Because it was a pre-1951 statuette, the Academy was powerless to behave, however issued a statement saying it “regrets the visitors in Oscars. The statuettes are symbols of recognition by one’s friends of excellence in film-making … The Academy stays involved and can think about all authorized choices open to it with regard to every sale.”

Vivien Leigh with her best actress Oscar for Gone With the Wind in 1940 … it later sold for $536,000.
Vivien Leigh along with her finest actress Oscar for Gone With the Wind in 1940 … it later offered for $536,000. {Photograph}: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

Many subsequent would-be sellers have fallen foul of these “authorized choices”. In 2008, for instance, three heirs of silent-movie star Mary Pickford (one of many unique founders of the Academy for Movement Image Arts and Sciences) were blocked of their makes an attempt to promote her 1930 finest actress award, for Coquette, and an honorary Oscar she acquired in 1976. The Academy efficiently argued at trial that the settlement Pickford signed in 1976 coated each statuettes.

Some Oscars would virtually be worthy of a biopic themselves. Orson Welles’s 1942 finest screenplay Oscar for Citizen Kane, for instance, was reported misplaced by his daughter Beatrice in 1988. The Academy issued her with a alternative, just for the unique to resurface. Welles had left it with a cinematographer named Gary Graver whereas utilizing it as a prop in his film The Different Facet of the Wind. Graver tried to promote it in 1994, claiming Welles had given it to him in fee, however Beatrice intervened and regained possession of it, which meant she now had two Citizen Kane Oscars. When she tried to public sale the unique in 2003, the Academy tried, however failed, to place a cease to it (courts eventually ruled that she was permitted to promote the unique, however not the alternative). Welles reportedly offered it for an undisclosed sum just a few years later. Then in 2011 it resurfaced, and was auctioned for $862,000 by an nameless vendor to an nameless purchaser.

Judy Garland’s ‘juvenile’ Oscar.
Judy Garland’s ‘juvenile’ Oscar. {Photograph}: PA Photos/Alamy

One other courtroom drama unfolded over the sale of Judy Garland’s distinctive “juvenile” Oscar from 1940 for The Wizard of Oz (which was smaller than the usual concern statuette). It could possibly be thought-about one of the collectible objects in film historical past, besides it was additionally reported misplaced by Garland’s husband, Sid Luft, in 1958. Once more, the Academy supplied a alternative, which Luft tried to promote in 1993, 24 years after Garland’s demise. The Academy obtained a court docket order prohibiting the sale, so as a substitute Luft reportedly gave it to his daughter, Lorna. Then, in 2000, Garland’s unique 1940 Oscar appeared within the palms of a memorabilia vendor – beginning value: $3m. As ordinary, the Academy obtained a restraining order, after which Luft and the vendor denied truly having the 1940 Oscar. The thriller was by no means resolved.

These type of disputes appear to occur each few years. Simply final month, a lady was blocked from promoting David Ward’s 1974 screenwriting Oscar for The Sting, as a part of compensation on money owed owed to her by Ward. As a substitute, the courts dominated, she may solely promote it to the Academy for $10, as was agreed by Ward when he acquired it.

Pre-1951 Oscars proceed to come back up for official sale frequently, albeit with out shedding a lot mild on the commerce. In 2012, a group of 15 Oscars was sold at auction for a complete of $3m, for instance. The patrons had been unnamed, and the vendor was solely recognized as a “Los Angeles-area businessman with ties to the leisure business”. Final July, Heritage Auctions offered cinematographer Clyde de Vinna’s 1930 Oscar for White Shadows in the South Seas, the second ever Oscar for finest cinematography, for $228,000. (“The statuette’s end reveals delicate tarnish and minor rubbing.”) As ordinary, neither purchaser nor vendor had been recognized.

Who’s amassing them? And is there a hidden market? There are at all times rumours, says Ashleigh. “It’s fairly exhausting to do it out within the open until it’s one thing that’s pre-1951,” she says. “However largely, it’s as a result of they’re actually film buffs. They love the entire tradition. And if they’ve the cash, they’re going to attempt to discover one thing on the key market.”

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Hattie McDaniel with her Academy Award for best supporting actress, for Gone With the Wind – at the time a plaque was given for this award.
Hattie McDaniel along with her Academy Award for finest supporting actress, for Gone With the Wind – on the time a plaque was given for this award. {Photograph}: John Kobal Basis/Getty Photos

Some patrons have gone public: in 2003, the magician David Copperfield purchased Michael Curtiz’s finest director Oscar for Casablanca at public sale for $232,000. Reportedly, he saved it in his bed room, claiming with out irony: “Objects needs to be the place they do probably the most good.” In what could possibly be his best magic trick of all, Copperfield resold the statuette for greater than $2m in 2012. One other extremely unanonymous collector paid a report $1.5m for the most effective image Oscar for Gone With the Wind in 1999: Michael Jackson.

Different high-profile patrons have had purer motivations. Between 1996 and 2001, Steven Spielberg purchased Oscars belonging to Clark Gable (for It Occurred One Evening) and Bette Davis (for Jezebel and Dangerous) for a complete of $1.4m. He donated all three statuettes to the Academy. Kevin Spacey did the identical when he bought George Stoll’s 1946 Oscar for finest rating for Anchors Aweigh in 2001.

So what number of Oscars does the Academy have in its possession? It declined to say. Twenty statuettes are on show on the Academy Museum in LA (the place this 12 months’s Oscars ceremony was held), though a number of of those are borrowed. Spielberg’s Clark Gable statuette is on show, however not the Bette Davis ones. The place are the others?

Shirley Temple presents Walt Disney with his special award Oscar for Snow White, including seven mini statuettes, in February 1939.
Shirley Temple presents Walt Disney together with his particular award Oscar for Snow White, together with seven mini statuettes, in February 1939. {Photograph}: Masheter Film Archive/Alamy

There are many Oscars on view elsewhere. Twenty-seven of Walt Disney’s could be seen on the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, together with his particular 1939 award for Snow White, which got here with seven little mini-Oscars. Katharine Hepburn’s 4 finest actress statuettes are within the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has Vivien Leigh’s for A Streetcar Named Need and Paul Scofield’s for A Man for All Seasons. And fittingly, Frank Sinatra’s finest supporting actor award for From Right here to Eternity is within the Sinatra restaurant on the Wynn resort in Las Vegas.

Extra intriguing are the statuettes no person has seen for many years. Hattie McDaniel’s finest supporting actress award for Gone With the Wind – the primary received by a Black actor, although it wasn’t a statuette however a plaque – was on show at Howard College in Washington DC till 1970, when it disappeared. Olympia Dukakis misplaced hers (finest supporting actress, for Moonstruck, 1988) in a 1989 break-in. The thief later phoned and demanded a ransom however the trade by no means occurred. Marlon Brando’s two for On the Waterfront and The Godfather (the one Sacheen Littlefeather refused to simply accept), Matt Damon’s for Good Will Looking, Angelina Jolie’s for Lady, Interrupted, Frank Capra’s for his documentary Prelude to Conflict are all lacking. And some years after Michael Jackson’s demise in 2009, attorneys admitted “the property doesn’t know the place the Gone With the Wind statuette is”. Maybe it’s languishing, Raiders of the Misplaced Ark-style, among the many singer’s many possessions; or maybe it’s within the palms of a shady collector, together with all the opposite lacking Oscars. Maybe a grasp Oscar thief has been working undetected all this time with out anybody noticing.

Sacheen Littlefeather declines the best actor Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando in 1973, as Roger Moore and Liv Ullmann look on. The whereabouts of this Oscar are not known.
Sacheen Littlefeather declines the most effective actor Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando in 1973, as Roger Moore and Liv Ullmann look on. The whereabouts of this Oscar will not be identified. {Photograph}: Ts/Keystone USA/REX/Shutterstock

The Academy did study one lesson from the ill-fated Oscar heist of 2000, although: if one other cargo of Oscars in some way falls off the again of a lorry, it allegedly retains a inventory of emergency statuettes in a safe vault at a secret location, simply in case. Let’s hope they’re nicely guarded.

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