As a longtime member of the Hollywood community, Oscar likes to present a golden, untarnished image to the world. But the truth is, while he’s usually found in his native habitat, gracing the mantelpieces of cinema’s elite, he’s also turned up in some pretty wild places, from pawnshops to trash bins, through no fault of his own.
Naturally, the Academy frowns upon such unbecoming behavior. “The Oscar statuette is obviously the film industry’s highest honor, and as such, the Academy has an obligation to protect its standing,” asserts Ric Robertson, exec administrator at the Academy. “Over the years, we’ve developed policies to prevent the Oscar turning into an item of commerce or just another piece of movie memorabilia, and we try to keep it as pure as possible and ensure that the only way you can get one is to win one.”
The one exception? “It’s perfectly acceptable for a winner to bequeath an Oscar to any family member or friend,” he says.
Since 1950, the Academy has had “The Winner’s Agreement,” a binding legal document which essentially restricts all winners — or their heirs — from being able to sell their statues. “We still see Oscars come up for auction, but they’re generally pre-1950,” says Robertson.
And while the Academy has no legal right to repossess those early trophies, it strongly opposes such practices. What follows are 10 of the strangest places Oscar has ever found himself.
Going once …
When Clark Gable’s best actor Oscar for 1934’s “It Happened One Night” came up for auction in 1996, it was scooped up for $607,500 by an anonymous bidder, who turned out to be Steven Spielberg. The director promptly donated it to the Academy.
After Jimmy Stewart won “The Philadelphia Story” (1940), he gave the Oscar to his father, who proudly displayed it in the front window of the family business, J.M. Stewart & Co. Hardware in Indiana, Penn., where it stayed for some 20 years.
Set decorator F. Keogh Gleason worked at MGM for 40 years and won four Oscars. In the ’80s, three of those awards (for “An American in Paris,” “Gigi” and “Somebody Up There Likes Me”) eventually ended up at a West Hollywood pawnshop called Elliott Salter Gives Instant Loans. “His son Pat brought them in as he needed cash in a hurry, so I gave him a sizable loan,” Salter recalls. “A lot of people were very interested in them, but he eventually came back and redeemed them.”
Alice Brady won a supporting actress Oscar for “In Old Chicago” in 1938, but was too ill to attend the ceremony. When her name was announced, a man jumped up onstage and accepted on her behalf. Unfortunately, Brady didn’t know the stranger and her Oscar was never seen again. She died of cancer before a replacement could be issued.
Isaac Hayes’ Oscar for “Shaft” sits in the entrance to his Memphis restaurant, “Music, Food and Passion.”
Belongs in a museum
Shelley Winters bequeathed her ’59 Oscar (awarded for her supporting turn in “The Diary of Anne Frank”) to the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam.
Whoopi Goldberg’s supporting actress Oscar for “Ghost” disappeared after it was sent out for cleaning by the Academy to R.S. Owens of Chicago, the company that makes the statues. “She was extremely nervous about letting it out of her sight, but finally relented,” reports the Academy’s Steve Miessner. “We never, ever have problems with shipping, but UPS told us it got lost. Whoopi was pretty upset.” The lost statue was found in a trash bin at the Ontario, Calif., airport by a security guard and returned to the star, who dropped plans to ever have it cleaned. “Oscar will never leave my house again,” she said.
Child stars Shirley Temple and Margaret O’Brien (right) were both given mini-Oscars for “Outstanding Child Actress,” but O’Brien’s 1944 statue was reported stolen — allegedly by the maid — in 1954, so the Acad replaced it with a full-size one. The original turned up almost 40 years later at a Pasadena City College swap meet and was returned to O’Brien.
Lost in the move
William Hurt’s best actor Oscar for 1985’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman” was reported stolen in 2006 when the star was moving homes. “The police found it in a ditch by the side of the road, and it was pretty badly damaged,” says Miessner. “We’re happy to replace it, but he has yet to follow up.”
When acclaimed Spanish d.p. Nestor Almendros was nominated for “Days of Heaven,” he nearly missed the ceremony. “He didn’t even want to go,” recalls close friend Scotty Bowers. “He felt the other films and d.p.s stood a much better chance of winning. But I put him in my car, drove him to the show, and we barely got in — they were closing the doors.” Almendros won and, forever grateful to his friend, bequeathed his Oscar to Bowers before he died of AIDS in 1992. “It arrived in the mail, and now I keep it at home,” adds Bowers, a caterer. “Sometimes I loan it out for a party or show.”