The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences proudly gives out multiple awards each year – many of them for teams of people working on a single project – and there is much rejoicing. So much so that you may find it hard to believe that these priceless statuettes (not so for their intrinsic value; they’re only plated in gold and valued at about $400) are often given away or lost by their recipients. But that is often not the case.
The Oscars statuettes, as they are more colloquially known, have turned up missing frequently over the years. Dating back to almost 100 years ago, they don’t seem to stay put. From Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar in 1939 for Gone With the Wind, to 2010’s award to Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, they have been lost for reasons of theft and burglary to downright carelessness.
Margaret O’Brien is the earliest recipient documented as having lost her Oscar. Awarded for 1945’s Meet Me in St. Louis, hers had stayed with her mother. In 1954, having been taken home by a servant for polishing – who was then fired – the statuette never made it home. It wouldn’t be recovered until it was found in a memorabilia collector’s private collection some 40 years later.
Karl Freund has his Oscar for The Good Earth in 1938 stolen from his daughter’s house in 1975 (by which time the cinematographer was already the late cinematographer). It was eventually advertised in The Los Angeles Times for a price of $20,000, at which time the authorities got involved and it was returned. Also in the 1970’s two Oscars belonging to Lewis Milestone, director of Two Arabian Knights (1929) and All Quiet on the Western Front (1936), were stolen. The difference in these statues was that they were totally unaccounted for, and replaced by the academy.
But not everybody gets a free one. In the case of Hattie McDaniel, hers was donated to Howard University, where she instructed it should go after her death. Miguel Ferrer, whose father had won for 1950’s Cyrano de Bergerac, donated his to the University of Puerto Rico. In both cases, they were stolen. And in both cases, the Academy declined to replace them.
From Whoopi Goldberg’s (when it was sent back for cleaning and lost) to Olympia Dukakis (lost in a burglary in 1989) various different Oscars have been lost over time and replaced by the Academy. And in the cases of Marlon Brando, Angelina Jolie, and Jeff Bridges just writing them off almost casually as “not turning up,” maybe the work is the most important thing.