By Master Sgt. Kanessa TrentSeptember 4, 2008
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (Army News Service, Sept. 4, 2008) - Sixty-six years after first earning an Academy Award, the Oscar statuette is now back in the hands of the United States Army and bound for Washington, D.C., to be placed on display at the Pentagon.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences returned the Oscar to the care of the U.S. Army during a ceremony at the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study Sept. 3.
The Oscar was earned by Maj. Frank Capra's 1942 documentary "Prelude to War," the first film in the United States Army Special Services' seven-picture "Why We Fight" series. Prelude to War was produced by the armed services to educate Americans, and new servicemen in particular, about the nation's objectives in entering World War II. It was required viewing by all troops entering the service.
"It is with the utmost respect that I hand over this Oscar statuette, which honors the film Prelude to War and serves as a symbol of filmmaking excellence not just in this country but around the world," said Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science.
Brig. Gen. Jeffery Phillips, the Army's deputy chief of Public Affairs, accepted the award on behalf of the Army, saying he believes that Capra would be proud that the Oscar has "made its way home to be with Soldiers."
"The documentary series helped build public support for the war effort," Phillips said. "His films were also instrumental in ensuring that all members of our armed forces clearly understood what was at stake."
The history of the statuette is storied in its own right. The statuette returned to the U.S. Army is a duplicate requested by and granted to the Department of Defense in 1958 in connection with a special exhibition. In 1943, the actual object presented for documentary films was a plaque, not a statuette. That original plaque was presented to Col. Edward L. Munson Jr., who accepted it on behalf of the United States Army Special Services. Because of the war years' metal shortages, the 1943 awards presentation ceremony was the first in which the awards themselves were made of plaster.
After the end of World War II, everyone who received a plaster Oscar received a metal one - dipped in gold as they still are today. The Capra family possesses that original award - that is, the original replacement award.
Capra, who died in 1991, is best known for his direction of Academy-Award winning films "It Happened One Night (1934), "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and "You Can't Take It With You (1938). He also directed then newly returned Army war veteran Jimmy Stewart in the Christmas classic "It's a Wonderful Life."
The Army had control of the returned statuette, which was on display until 1970 when the Army Pictorial Center closed. After that, the whereabouts of the Oscar became unknown, until June 2008 when Academy officials learned that Christie's auction house was offering the statuette for sale and notified the Army, which asserted its claim on the award.
"I offer special thanks to Academy President Sid Ganis and his staff for their efforts to secure this long-lost statuette and offer it back to the Army," Phillips said. "Your kindness is in keeping with the 60-year relationship the U.S. Army has had with the motion picture industry."
(Master Sgt. Kanessa Trent serves with the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs -Los Angeles Branch. Army News Service's Heike Hasenauer also contributed to this report.)