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right: alice Brady, whose ‘missing’ Oscar kickstarted rutigliano’s obsession overleaf: hattie mcDaniel is presented with her replacement ‘Best actress’ award; a plucky thief swiped one of Katharine hepburn’s record four ‘Best actress’ Oscars from a public exhibition

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onsider every movie you have ever seen. For all the direction, costume, musical scores, spellbinding screenwriting and peerless method acting that has flashed before your eyes, only 3,048 Oscars have ever been awarded for the achievement of cinematic excellence. Regarded as the pinnacle of artistic accomplishment, the Academy Award of Merit is a coveted honour indeed. Yet in unguarded moments – after the tears have been shed and the acceptance speeches have been shared – 79 of these rare statuettes have mysteriously gone missing, and 12 of that total have still never been recovered. If you’ve ever heard of the ‘Lost Oscars’ phenomenon, then Olivia Rutigliano is the reason. It was this Columbia University PhD student (Theatre English/Comparative Lit.) who retreated to the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library and trawled through archives, investigating the veracity of urban legends and drawing public attention to this fascinating series of occurrences. “When I was 12, my mum came home one day with a coffee table book about the history of the Academy Awards – a lovely illustrated edition with beautiful photographs, which had trivia sidebars for every year of the awards,” she explains, of how her fascination first took hold. “You’d look at photos of the winners and then, in a sidebar, could read about interesting things that happened during that ceremony.” On the page about the 1937 Oscars was a mention that Alice Brady – who

It was the spookiest, coolest thing I had ever read about movies secured a ‘Best Supporting Actress’ win for the film In Old Chicago – had her award stolen on the night. “The bite of text explained that, apparently, a bedridden Brady didn’t attend, and a man walked on stage, accepting the award on her behalf. Nobody knew his identity, but it didn’t necessarily attract suspicion, and he vanished with her Oscar.” The factoid resonated with Rutigliano: “In high school I decided to go to the New York Public Library and research this theft. The common fable explained that it was only after Brady contacted the Academy – enquiring about the location of the statuette that she’d heard she had won – did the Academy realise it had been taken by an imposter.”

She found that nobody had discovered the identity of the man, and the Oscar was never found. “This was the spookiest, coolest thing I had ever read about movies,” she says. Cool it might have been but, as Rutigliano would later discover, it was completely untrue. The Crimes “During my senior year in college I had the opportunity to apply for a research grant with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to fund a research project of my choosing. I pitched to the organisation that I would attempt to find and discover what happened to three Oscars I had read were stolen,” she says. The trio comprised Alice Brady’s 1937 award, Vivien Leigh’s Oscar for 55

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