At the 90th Academy Awards ceremony, which took place on March 4, Frances McDormand won the Best Actress Oscar for her role of Mildred Hayes in Martin McDonagh’s inspiring drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
During the traditional Governors Ball, the official post-Oscars after-party, McDormand’s golden statuette briefly went missing: apparently, it was stolen by a man who simply couldn’t resist the urge of owning the world’s most renowned film award. Fortunately for the actress, one of the photographers at the party managed to take the statuette and return it to her.
McDormand was reunited with her award, but some other Oscar-winning celebrities weren’t so lucky. Oscar theft is not an uncommon thing. Some people are so obsessed with their favorite actors and directors that they would like to possess the awards at any cost, while for some others the theft of an Academy Award probably represents an unorthodox way of earning money on the black market.
For example, the Best Documentary Oscar, which Frank Capra’s film Prelude to War, the first part of his series of anti-Nazi propaganda documentaries entitled Why We Fight, won in 1942, was stolen in 1970 from the Army Pictorial Center in Astoria, New York, where it was publicly displayed. It was never recovered. The prominent Moldovan-American director Lewis Milestone was even less fortunate: both of his Best Director Oscars (one of which was awarded in the short-lived category of Best Comedy Director) were stolen from his home in 1978. The Academy immediately gave him replacement statuettes and the originals were found in 1990, ten years after his death, in the personal collection of his close friend and coworker, an actor named Christopher Riordan.
Since 1955, three prominent Academy Award-winning actresses became victims of Oscar theft. In 1945, Margaret O’Brien, who was a famous child actor at the time, won the Juvenile Academy Award for her outstanding performances in four films in 1944. In 1955, O’Brien’s maid took her statuette home to clean it, as she had done before. However, the maid never came back to O’Brien’s house and was never heard from again. The young actress’ family wasn’t able to track her down: she disappeared along with the prized award.
Luckily, in 1995, exactly 40 years later, a lawyer named Steve Neimand came across her Oscar at a flea market and bought it for a petty sum. He recognized the statuette as genuine and decided to give it back to the actress free of charge. At that time, Margaret O’Brien was 58 years old. She was pleasantly surprised by the deed of her good Samaritan and vowed never to part with her Oscar again.
Thirty-three years later, the Greek-American actress Olympia Dukakis won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, her only Academy Award, for the role of Rose Castorini in Norman Jewison’s acclaimed romantic comedy Moonstruck. A year later, someone broke into her house in New Jersey and stole the statuette. The burglar, who was never identified, was obviously on the hunt for the Oscar because nothing else was missing from the actress’ home. Several days later, the perpetrator actually phoned Dukakis’ son and attempted to sell the award back to the family. The police intended to organize an ambush for the Oscar thief, but he never called again, and the distressed actress soon received a replacement statuette.
The most recent Oscar theft occurred in 2002 when the famous actress Whoopi Goldberg sent her Best Supporting Actress award, which she won in 1990 for the role of a psychic named in the romantic fantasy film Ghost, back to the Academy for cleaning. Curiously, the Academy used the regular UPS courier service to send the statuette to Chicago so that it could be cleaned by the firm which has been manufacturing Oscar statuettes since 1982. However, the firm never received the package: instead, they received an empty box.
It turned out that someone most likely stole the Oscar and intended to sell it but was not bold enough to go through with the whole operation. Luckily for Goldberg, the statuette was found unscathed in a trash can at the airport in Ontario, California, and the actress was promptly reunited with it.
Apparently, if you’re an Academy Award winner, it’s not very wise to leave your award unguarded, because the world seems to be teeming with Oscar-stealing fiends who are ready to do whatever it takes to acquire a golden statuette for themselves.