Oscar's Life After Death: 10 Statuettes, From Heath Ledger's to Liz Taylor's, Today

8:55 AM 2/24/2016

by Mark Morrison

There have been 3,093 statuettes given out in 87 years. Some end up in museums. Steven Spielberg spent $600,000 to save one. Another that Michael Jackson bought is now missing. Most are now with family, and — like the awards featured here — each one has a story.

Heath Ledger - H 2016
Sharyn Cairns

When the honorary Oscar belonging to Sid Grauman of Chinese Theatre fame turned up at an estate sale after his death in 1950, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences board members called an emergency meeting. Then-executive director Margaret Herrick was dispatched to bid whatever it cost to retrieve the wayward Oscar. From that time onward, trackable serial numbers were added to statuettes, and honorees had to sign a "winner's agreement" specifying that Oscars may be bequeathed to an heir or nonprofit institution — but not sold without first being offered back to the Academy for the token sum of one dollar.

The Academy's hope, of course, is for the Oscar to remain something to earn, not buy, and for many grateful winners, keeping the statuette in the family is a no-brainer (as the following exclusive THR portraits show). But not everyone is so intent on holding on to an heirloom. In 1993, Sotheby's sold Vivien Leigh's best actress Oscar for Gone With the Wind to a collector for $563,500, while Clark Gable's best actor Oscar for It Happened One Night was put up for auction at Christie's in 1996 by his son, John Clark Gable. The buyer was Steven Spielberg, who paid $607,500 — then gifted it to the Academy. Spielberg also rescued other pre-1951 Oscars, including Bette Davis' 1939 best actress Oscar for Jezebel, which he bought for $578,000 in 1996.

Presently, the Academy has 70 to 80 returned Oscars on hand. These include all 11 awards won by The Wizard of Oz's legendary art director Cedric Gibbons, who designed the 24-karat gold-plated statuette in 1928. More recently, the late Shirley Temple Black bequeathed her rare juvenile Oscar — the first handed out, which was awarded to her in 1935, when she was 6. For now, most of these returned Oscars will spend more time in a very dark, secure vault than on public display — that is, until the six-story Academy Museum, currently under construction on Los Angeles' Miracle Mile, opens in 2018, where they will hopefully find a home of their own.

  • Heath Ledger

    Eight years after Heath Ledger's death at age 28 from accidental prescription-drug intoxication, his father, Kim Ledger — who accepted a posthumous acting award for The Dark Knight on his son's behalf (one of only eight times ever) at the 2009 Academy Awards — reflects from his home in Western Australia: "Bittersweet is probably the best way I can describe that night," says Ledger, 66. "It was only a year and a month since his passing. We hadn't got our heads around the tragedy of losing him, but at the same time, he was receiving such accolades for what he knew was his best work."

    The best supporting actor statuette for Heath's role as the Joker has been temporarily retrieved from the Western Australian Museum in Perth (also where Heath's sister, Kate, and his mother, Sally, from whom Kim is divorced, live), where it will return to a collection that includes the star's Dark Knight costume, letters, diaries and self-penned scripts, all destined for permanent exhibition. — By Pip Bulbeck

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  • Isaac Hayes

    When Hayes performed his Oscar-nominated song "Theme From Shaft" on a smoke-filled stage at the 1972 Academy Awards, the Hollywood establishment didn't know what to make of the bald, bare-chested dude in dark shades and a gold chainmail vest surrounded by dancers in Afros and white bell-bottoms. "Can you dig it?" he crooned.

    Not everyone could. After all, previous original song Oscars had gone to the likes of Burt Bacharach. But later that night, the then-29-year-old son of a Tennessee sharecropper family took home the gold and became the third African-American to win an Oscar (after Hattie McDaniel and Sidney Poitier). Hayes also paved the way for pop and rap stars who once might have been considered Oscar outsiders, from Lionel Richie to Bruce Springsteen to Eminem. "I'm as proud of my father today as I was the very first time I saw him perform," says Melanie Hayes, 47, who was too young to remember that night.

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  • Ingrid Bergman

    Ingrid Bergman won the first of her three acting Oscars for Gaslight, directed by George Cukor, when the Swedish star was living with her first hus­band, neurosurgeon Aron Petter Lindstrom, in her first Beverly Hills residence (now home to producer Brett Ratner). Standing in her art-filled New York apartment overlooking Central Park, Bergman's firstborn, Emmy-winning journalist Pia Lindstrom, remembers her mother's Oscar "on a bookcase in the living room. I looked at it as an artifact in a house — I didn't know everybody didn't have one!" Bergman, who was nominated seven times and went onto win best actress for 1956's Anastasia and best supporting actress for 1974's Murder on the Orient Express, spent the end of her life in London and kept her awards on a spe­cial shelf.

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  • Dalton Trumbo

    "If I could have one wish, I'd like to have known him as an adult," says Samantha Trumbo Campbell of her grandfather, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who died when she was 4. Campbell reminisces while sitting on the porch of her 1909 bungalow — which is not unlike those seen in Trumbo (for which Bryan Cranston is Oscar nominated), the 2015 biopic about the scribe who was thrown in jail by Congress' House Un-American Activities Committee. After Trumbo served a year's term, he went from Hollywood's highest-paid writer to being blacklisted as a communist and spent a decade writing pseudonymously until receiving credit in 1960 for Spartacus and Exodus.

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  • Elizabeth Taylor

    When growing up, Christopher Wilding and his brother Michael were allowed to play with their mother's Golden Globes awards, but Elizabeth Taylor never let them touch her Oscars. "I guess the Globes didn't have as much cachet as they do now," says Christopher, 61. Nearly five years after his mother died of heart failure at age 79, the retired film editor displays the first of her three Oscars in the book- lined living room of the mid­century modern house that he shares with his wife, Margie, in Calabasas, Calif. "I'm thrilled to have the Oscar," says Wilding. "She was so beautiful, some people tended to overlook her great acting chops." One of those people might have been fellow nominee Shirley MacLaine, who quipped, "I lost to a tracheotomy," referring to the sympathy vote Taylor allegedly received for surviving a life-threatening bout with pneumonia.

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  • Philip Epstein

    Leslie Epstein keeps the Oscar his father, Philip, won in 1944 for writing Casablanca — which he co-wrote with his twin brother Julius and Howard Koch — locked in a safe ("I can't get insurance for it"). But that doesn't mean it's far from sight. The novelist and Boston University writing professor, 78, turned a photograph he took of the statuette into a bookmark so it would always be near. "I only knew my father until the age of 13 [Philip died of cancer in 1952] so this stays with me." Daughter Anya, 45, a television writer (The Affair), says her strongest memories aren't of her grandfather, whom she never knew, but of her great uncle Julius, who was like a de facto grandfather to her (daughter Eve's middle name is Julius). — By Andy Lewis

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  • Michael Jackson's Missing Oscar

    When Michael Jackson died unexpectedly in 2009 at age 50, the executors of his estate began taking inventory of the mountains of valuable (and often bizarre) assets the entertainer had left behind. But one prized Jackson possession eluded their investigation: the best picture Oscar awarded to legendary producer David O. Selznick for the 1939 classic Gone With the Wind. Jackson, a movie buff throughout his life, had purchased the Academy Award in 1999, paying $1.54 million in a Sotheby's auction (the 1940 Oscar was awarded before there were rules against selling them), still the most ever shelled out for a golden statuette. (Before the auction, the sellers had estimated its worth at a mere $300,000.) — By Matthew Belloni

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  • Haing Ngor

    Even the last leg of the unlikely journey that took Sophia Ngor Demetri and her uncle, Haing Ngor, from massacre-ravaged Cambodia to the red carpet at the 1985 Academy Awards had a dramatic twist. Their limousine got snarled in traffic, and they weren't in their seats when Linda Hunt introduced the best supporting actor nominees. Ngor rushed down the aisle of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion just in time to accept his award. (Demetri wound up seated next to Prince.) Ngor gave an acceptance speech thanking casting director Pat Golden, Warner Bros. and Buddha. Later that night, he gave the Oscar to his niece, telling her: "This is for you. I did this for you."

    This being their entire shared ordeal, which began in 1979, when Ngor and his orphaned niece, then 10, fled their Khmer Rouge captors and made the hazardous escape, dodging land mines and eating rats for food, to a Thai refugee camp on foot (sometimes with Demetri on her uncle's shoulders) and eventually to the U.S. Four years later, Golden, who was on a nationwide search for a Cambodian man to portray real-life journalist Dith Pran in The Killing Fields, discovered Ngor at a wedding in Long Beach, Calif. "He had an innate gift for acting," says Golden. — By Rebecca Sun

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  • Charlton Heston

    Fraser Heston says his earliest memory "is riding the chariot on the set of Ben-Hur with my father." Charlton Heston's son, a writer-director in his own right, also appeared in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956) as baby Moses (his contract was "signed" with a print of his foot). After playing the adult Moses, Charlton starred in William Wyler's 1959 epic about a Jewish prince forced into slavery and took home the Oscar. "Ben-Hur was a big risk for him and the studio [MGM]. When he won, I think he finally felt validated as an actor," says Fraser, 61. It was to be Heston's only Oscar nomination for acting, but in 1978, he won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, honoring his longtime advocacy of civil rights, notably as part of a Hollywood contingent that included Sidney Poitier, Marlon Brando and Bob Dylan, who all marched on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963.

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  • Jose Ferrer's Oscar Mystery

    According to the Academy, more than half of the statuettes given out over 87 years have gone missing one way or another. NCIS: Los Angeles co-star Miguel Ferrer found out the hard way about the replacement policy.

    After his late father, Jose Ferrer, was named best actor in 1951 for Cyrano de Bergerac, the Puerto Rico-born star married vocalist Rosemary Clooney, had five kids with her, divorced her, remarried her, then again divorced — along the way becoming uncle to George Clooney and donating the Oscar to the University of Puerto Rico. "I never saw the thing, never laid eyes on it. It was not in the house [growing up]," says Miguel. "I have no idea why he had it there outside of the fact that he had great affection for the island and the people who live there."

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