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The Army recovers its MIA Oscar

The long-lost statue for Frank Capra's 'Prelude to War' returns with fanfare.

September 05, 2008|Bob Thomas | Associated Press

The Army, with a hand from Hollywood, has received a long-lost Oscar back into its ranks.

The little statue took a long and largely unknown path before being passed from Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Sid Ganis to an Army general in a Wednesday night ceremony and screening.

In 1942, a few weeks after Pearl Harbor, filmmaker Frank Capra joined the Army and was assigned to create a film series, "Why We Fight."

Maj. Capra, who had directed such films as "It Happened One Night," "Lost Horizon" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," was told to create the documentary "Prelude to War."

He showed the finished work to Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall, who insisted that President Franklin D. Roosevelt see the film.

In his 1971 autobiography, "The Name Above the Title," Capra wrote of a screening at the White House. Amid the applause at the end, FDR exclaimed: "Every man, woman and child in the world should see this film!"

"Prelude to War" was at first seen solely by soldiers in Army quarters, but the Army eventually relented and 250 prints were sent to theaters across the country.

The academy staged a screening of "Prelude to War" on Wednesday night at the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study in Hollywood.

"Sixty-five years later, 'Prelude to War' still continues to be one of the greatest documentaries ever made," said Ganis, the host of the screening. Ganis traced the history of the "Mystery of the Missing Oscar."

In 1942, "Prelude to War" won an Academy Award for best documentary by the U.S. Army Special Services, but, Ganis explained, the prize wasn't a statue but a plaque. All of the awards were in plaster, not metal, during the war because of the metal shortage.

After the war the Army received an actual Oscar statue, and it was stored in the Army Pictorial Center.

When the center closed in 1970, the Oscar disappeared.

Earlier this year, Christie's auction house advertised an Oscar for sale. It was the missing "Prelude to War" award. The academy notified the Army, which claimed the prize.

On Wednesday night, Ganis presented a polished, 8-pound Oscar to Brig. Gen. Jeffrey E. Phillips, deputy chief of public affairs for the army.

The ceremony was followed by a screening of "Prelude to War," which looked as current as battle clips from Iraq.

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