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OSCAR MYSTERY BRAZEN THEFT LATEST ACADEMY MISHAP.

Byline: Marla Matzer Rose Staff Writer

Wanted: 55 naked gold men coveted by Hollywood's elite. Last seen earlier this month on a shipping dock in Bell on their way to the Academy Awards ceremony scheduled at the Shrine Auditorium on March 26.

Someone out there may have taken this year's Oscars for a prank or to sell them profitably in the black market, but the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences called it a crime Friday. The FBI was called in to aid local police and a $50,000 reward was posted.

The theft, disclosed almost a week after the incident, is the latest mishap that has had the publicity department of the academy in crisis mode in the final weeks leading up to the March 26 awards ceremony. Earlier this month, the post office misplaced thousands of Oscar ballots that had to be reissued.

In a news conference Friday morning, academy Executive Director Bruce Davis downplayed the disappearance of the unengraved statuettes and tried to make light of the unfortunate situation.

``Contrary to some reports, this is not the end of the Oscar ceremony for this year. It is an interesting but relatively minor glitch.''

Davis said there will be enough Oscars to go around on the big night, even without the 50-plus golden boys that disappeared from a Roadway Express shipping dock. The academy has 20 in stock and the Chicago-based manufacturer, R.S. Owens, already is producing the balance.

``But I think everyone should watch the entire show on Oscar night to see for themselves if we have enough.''

The statuettes are 13 1/2 inches tall, weigh 8 1/2 pounds and are made of a brittanium alloy plated with copper, silver and 24-carat gold.

Davis said the statuettes had a combined real value of about $18,000, but an ``inestimable'' value on the black market among collectors. The academy forbids recent winners from selling the statuettes, claiming they remain the property of the academy.

Still, several Oscars given before that rule change have been auctioned over the years and have fetched tens of thousands of dollars apiece. The scarcity of authentic Oscars on the open market makes them even more valuable to would-be collectors.

However, potential black-market buyers may find Roadway Express's $50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction more appealing than owning one of the prizes.

``I think it's going to be hard to fence an Oscar,'' Davis said.

He blasted Roadway, hired by R.S. Owens to transport the awards to academy headquarters.

``They apparently have a semicasual attitude about security,'' said Davis, adding there was ``no evidence'' that the cargo was being guarded when it disappeared in Bell.

Anyone with a tip is asked to call the Los Angeles Police Department at (213) 485-2505. Davis said investigators already had ``several strong leads'' but he would not elaborate.

Asked about the additional expense of making more Oscars and shipping them, Davis said, ``We're not going to pick up the check on this one. Talk to Roadway.''

Davis said Roadway was chosen by R.S. Owens this year after the academy was accused of ``an old-fashioned publicity stunt'' in the past two years. In 1998 and 1999, Davis said, the academy made a big deal of transporting the statuettes under heavy security all the way to Beverly Hills.

The award cartons were bulky and weighed 50 pounds apiece, ``so these weren't something you could pick up and throw in your trunk,'' Davis said. The boxes were unmarked and shrink-wrapped, so it's possible whoever took them didn't know what was in them.

One reporter, though, claimed to have heard dockworkers telling a radio reporter that they had taken out the statuettes to admire them and pose with them for pictures.

``I would want to confirm that,'' Davis said gravely, ``but that would concern us.''

In a bizarre twist on the whole situation, the city of Bell is also where hundreds of misdirected Oscar ballots surfaced because they were being handled as third-class mail.

``We're telling (Academy Awards host) Billy Crystal to stay away from Bell,'' Davis joked. ``It seems to be a sort of Bermuda Triangle for Oscar things.''

Asked whether he thought this incident could cause a ratings bump for the Oscar telecast, Davis said straight-faced: ``We'll look at the ratings closely this year, and possibly arrange to lose another shipment next year.''

In true Oscar fashion, the story attracted its own publicity hangers-on. Internet site IGN.com, which has been conducting its own online movie awards poll, is offering a reward of $5,000 and an Oscar reproduction for information leading to an arrest. IGN.com has set up an e-mail address to receive leads (www.missingoscars(at)IGN.com) and will forward those leads to authorities.

- Daily News Staff Writers Val Kuklenski and Lisa Van Proyen contributed to this story.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) no caption (Oscar statuettes)

Stephen J. Carrera/Associated Press

(2) Bruce Davis of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences fields questions about the missing Oscars on Friday.

Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

Box: HAVE YOU SEEN THIS STATUE?

SOURCE: Associated Press
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 18, 2000
Words:861
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