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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.
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