Oscar finder gets reward, Acad tickets

Voter turnout high; Bening's baby nigh

That’s Hollywood for you: One minute you’re rummaging around in a garbage bin, and the next minute you’re invited to the Oscars.

Salvage worker Willie Fulgear, who discovered 52 of the missing 55 Oscar statuettes last weekend, was officially presented with a $50,000 reward from Roadway Express — the trucking outfit that had been shipping the Oscars when they disappeared.

Roadway had originally offered the reward for info leading to the arrest and conviction of the culprits. The company obviously decided not to wait for possible conviction of its arrested employee; the company said it was stalling on the reward until the Los Angeles Police could conclude that Fulgear was cleared from any wrongdoing.

But the Acad insisted it wanted to honor Fulgear from the get-go.

“The LAPD asked us not to invite him until they finished all their interviews, but it was hard for us to wait,” said Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences spokesman John Pavlik.

“This feels good. I feel really good today,” said Fulgear upon receiving his prize.

Fulgear found the statuettes in a Koreatown trash bin. He told reporters he could really use the $50,000, but that he’ll give the money to his 22-year-old son Allen for a downpayment on a home.

Allen Fulgear will be his father’s escort to the Oscars.

“My Dad has always been a silent hero, the one that nobody ever talks about,” said Allen. “I think the good guy finally wins here.”

Roadway driver Lawrence Edward Ledent has been charged with one count of grand theft for allegedly swiping the Oscars from a warehouse March 8. He has pleaded innocent.

Another employee, Anthony Keith Hart, remains under investigation, and three Oscars are still missing.

Undoubtedly, Billy Crystal was crossing his fingers for the Fulgear invite, which presents the host with a slew of new joke opportunities.

Also prime material for Crystal is the 4,000-plus ballots that were lost in the mail, forcing a new batch to be sent, prompting the Acad to extend the voting deadline by two days.

Acad tabulating firm PricewaterhouseCoopers claims the incident will produce the best Oscar voting turnout in years.

“Nobody wanted to risk another mail problem, so we had a huge flood of ballots that arrived in our offices by the middle of last week,” explained PWC partner Greg Garrison. “And this year, with all the attention to the process, it looks as though we’re going to have more voters participating than we’ve ever had before.”

Meanwhile, Annette Bening bowed out as a presenter Thursday. The actress, pregnant with her fourth child, said labor is expected to begin around Sunday. She’ll have her suitcase packed and with her at the ceremony, just in case.

But she vows to be there: husband Warren Beatty is receiving the Irving Thalberg award, and she said, “I wouldn’t miss that for the world.”

The 72nd annual Academy Awards will be broadcast Sunday from the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium on ABC.

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