Oscar Award Is Missing, Academy Is Kinda Mean

by SUSANNAH LONG · May 25, 2010

Hattie McDaniels's 1940 Oscar statuette for Gone With The Wind is missing, and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is not exactly helpful. This isn't the first little gold man to cause problems, however. . .-

Hattie McDaniel was the first African American to win an Oscar; to celebrate her victory, Howard University held a luncheon in her honor. Now the late actress's plaque - as statuettes were not awarded to supporting actors until 1943 - belongs to Howard in theory but not in practice. That is, the Oscar itself is missing. Missing! Vamoosed! Although urban legend has it that the award was thrown into the Potomac in the midst of 1960s racial strife, Howard's theater department chairman, Joseph Selmon, suspects it may be hidden in the bowels of the university's storage.

Hattie McDaniels, as Mammy in Gone With the Wind. By the time Hattie McDaniels won her Oscar playing the faithful slave and servant of a spoiled Southern Belle, she had already appeared in more than 70 films.

Meanwhile, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences insists that award reissues are impossible, although they did send Selmon a framed photo and a sheet of Hattie commemorative stamps. Those are worth 39 cents apiece! You can almost mail a letter with that!

Hattie McDaniels's Oscar acceptance speech.

Sure, we could understand if the Academy refused a replacement on the grounds that if the organization gives Howard a new one, it'll have to give everyone who asks a replacement. Every time Nicole Kidman gets drunk and sloppy, the Academy will need to ship her out a new statuette. Understandable. But there's a problem. The Academy has manufactured duplicate statues in the past.

In 1958, the Department of Defense requested its own duplicate statue of the award for Frank Capra's 1942 film "Prelude to War," part of a US Army Special Services' documentary series. Incidentally, that statuette was lost at some point in the 70s - because those little bald men are tricky buggers - then rediscovered, saved from the auction block, and returned to the military several years ago. To be clear: The Army didn't have its own statuette. Maybe because it wasn't Frank Capra. The Army asked for one. It got one. To us, that duplicate Oscar seems awfully close to a reissue.

A frame from Prelude to War.

And perhaps the Academy should be a little more sympathetic to Howard's plight, given that they themselves lost track of 55 Oscar statuettes ten years ago. The statuettes "vanished and were presumed stolen" in 2000, before being discovered in a dumpster. (That same year, 4,000 completed Oscar voting ballots were lost and recovered only after new ballots were printed out.) Academy, you know that saying? The one that goes, "People who live in glass houses should just give Howard University a replacement plaque or something."

Joseph Selmon with a photo of Hattie McDaniels. He is le sad.

[Photo via the Washington Post slideshow on the story.]