Thursday, September 04, 2008

Duplicate Capra Oscar® Returned to Army

Duplicate statuette and PRELUDE TO WAR poster on display at ceremony returning Oscar statuette to the Department of the Army, 3 September 2008. Photo: Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S.

A duplicate of an Oscar statuette earned by director Frank Capra’s acclaimed 1942 documentary PRELUDE TO WAR, the first film in the United States Army Special Services’ seven-picture “Why We Fight” series, was removed from the auction block by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Academy President Sid Ganis returned the statuette to the care of the U.S. Army in a special ceremony yesterday.

The duplicate statuette was requested by and granted to the Department of Defense in 1958 in connection with a special exhibition. In the years following the exhibition, the award was in the care of the Army Pictorial Center. The original Oscar for Best Documentary of 1943, PRELUDE TO WAR, remains in the care of the Capra family.

The Army Pictorial Center closed in 1970. Academy officials, who monitor auction houses, on-line sales, and other sales outlets, saw that Christie's auction house was offering the statuette for sale. The Army asserted its claim on the Award immediately after being notified by the Academy. Exactly what happened to the statuette between 1970 and 2008 is unknown, but the auction house was pleased to return the statuette to the Army.

Frank Capra (L) and John Ford during World War II, undated.
Photo courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library.

The “Why We Fight” films, directed by then-Major Frank Capra (IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, 1946) are widely recognized as the most effective of the many films produced by the armed services to educate Americans in general, and new servicemen in particular, about the nation’s objectives in entering WWII.

“We are very grateful that the Academy contacted us and has returned the Oscar to the U.S. Army. . . . The award will be proudly and prominently displayed at the Department of the Army Headquarters for Public Affairs Office at the Pentagon for all to see," said Brigadier General Jeffrey E. Phillips, Deputy Chief of Public Affairs.

TRIVIA NOTE from Mimi: Frank Capra (18 May 1897, Sicily - 3 September 1991, Palm Springs, CA)

Actually, Frank Capra was not credited on PRELUDE TO WAR, the official World War II US Government film made for distribution to the American public. It defines the various enemies of the Allies and why they must be fought. It was made at a time when the war was going badly for the USA, 1942. The entire "Why We Fight" series, directed by Frank Capra, was placed on the National Film Registry, National Film Preservation Board, USA, in 2000.

Capra's first studio feature film after returning from his Army film assignment was IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), starring Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, etc. He won three Oscars for directing in the 1930's for YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU, MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN and IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT. Ironically, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE was nominated for five Oscars, including directing, but won none.

MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, also starring Jimmy Stewart, was nominated for 10 Oscars in 1940, including Stewart and Capra, but only Lewis R. Foster received one for writing the original story.

Capra has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but never received a lifetime achievement Oscar from the Academy. His last movie was the 1961 POCKETFULL OF MIRACLES.

I met him at the La Quinta Resort, Palm Springs, CA, about 1984. I was there working with a partner's meeting for what was then Price Waterhouse. I was distributing credentials for the evening parties, when a casually dressed older gentleman, only slightly taller than I, walked up to me and asked, "May I come to the parties."

I knew he was not part of the seminar and asked, "What is your name?"

"Frank Capra. Do you think you could get me in?"

I was stunned for a moment, and then recognized him as, indeed, one of the Hollywood directors that I most admired. I replied, "I'm not sure, Mr. Capra, these are private parties, but I'll be happy to ask my boss."

"Oh," he said, "I was just kidding, but thank you."

He gave me a card with only the number of his residence at La Quinta. The next day, I knocked on the door at the time he had indicated.

Mr. Capra answered, invited me in, and I visited with him for about an hour. We exchanged pleasantries and talked in generalities - - families, current movies, current events, about his life at La Quinta, my work at Price Waterhouse, etc.

Although tempted, I never asked him any questions. He seemed very pleased about the visit and invited me to visit him again the next time I was at the resort. Much to my regret, due to circumstances in my life that were beyond my control, I never returned to La Quinta.

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