Frances McDormand isn't alone: A history of Oscar heists

Raechal Shewfelt
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment

Beyond all the televised moments of the 2018 Oscars, it was the unscripted drama involving Frances McDormand’s briefly stolen Oscar that might have been the most compelling story line. The Best Actress winner for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri had her statuette heisted while she partied at the Governors Ball, shortly after the ceremony ended.

Frances McDormand accepts the Oscar for Best Actress at the Academy Awards on March 4, 2018. (Photo: Craig Sjodin via Getty Images)

McDormand’s trophy was returned to her before the night was over. Suspect Terry Bryant was nabbed and, within 48 hours, charged with Oscar-napping. (Technically it was felony grand theft, and Bryant’s lawyer told the Associated Press that his client plans to “forcefully and aggressively resist” the charges against him. Bryant has pleaded not guilty.)

But McDormand isn’t the only Academy Award winner who has had their statuette swiped. In fact, she’s one of the lucky ones. Other Oscars have been jacked over the years, and those cases didn’t wrap up quite as neatly. The award Hattie McDaniel won for 1939’s Gone With the Wind disappeared from Howard University, where she had donated it, decades ago. In 2000, a man named Willie Fullgear found 52 stolen Oscars near a trash bin while looked for moving boxes, just days before the trophies were to be given out.

Here are a few other cases of stolen Oscars:

Whoopi Goldberg’s 1991 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Ghost
Whoopi Goldberg holds her Oscar on the night she won it. (Photo: Ron Galella/WireImage)

Goldberg was able to hold on to her Best Supporting Actress award for 1990’s Ghost much longer than McDormand. Almost 11 years after winning it, she gave it back to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to have it cleaned and replated. The academy boxed up the trophy and sent it via UPS to the Chicago company that manufactured the statues at the time, R.S. Owens and Company, where the package arrived … empty.

Several days after it was supposed to have been shipped, a security guard at the Ontario, Calif., airport found the trophy — in, of all places, the trash. Apparently, someone had unsealed the box and taken the Oscar, before resealing the empty box and sending it on its way. The thief obviously hadn’t realized that each Oscar has a serial number, as well as the nameplate, which would make selling it tough.

UPS then hand-delivered that statue back to the academy, where it was locked in a vault until Goldberg picked it up. She decided not to have it refurbished after all.

“Oscar will never leave my house again,” she vowed in a statement.

Olympia Dukakis’s 1988 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Moonstruck
A thief tried to sell Olympia Dukakis the Oscar she won. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Dukakis never let her Oscar leave her house — in fact, she kept it on display in her kitchen — but it was still swiped while she was away filming. A thief broke into her home in Montclair, N.J., taking the Oscar and nothing else, on May 19, 1989.

The perpetrator decided to hold the statuette for ransom; he called the star’s son and tried to sell the statue back! Dukakis’s son tried to set up a sting operation, but the thief didn’t fall for it, the actress revealed on the Employee of the Month podcast in 2015.

“What they did was, they took the little thing on it that said who it was for … they left that, interestingly enough,” Dukakis said. She joked, “it was out of respect for my work, I am assuming.”

“And then I told the Academy what had happened — of course it was in the news and everything — and they sold me another one,” the Steel Magnolias star said.

Asked how much she had to pay for the replacement Oscar, Dukakis said it was about $75.

Margaret O’Brien’s 1945 Juvenile Award for Meet Me in St. Louis
Margaret O’Brien accepts her Oscar from Bob Hope in 1944. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

The 8-year-old actress who played Judy Garland’s baby sister in the holiday classic received special recognition that was occasionally given to outstanding child actors. (Fun fact: The last such award was given in 1960, to a 14-year-old Hayley Mills for her turn in Pollyanna.)

O’Brien added the Oscar to the room in her L.A. home where she displayed all her honors. Years later, the maid took it and two other awards home with her to polish, as she had done before, while O’Brien’s mother was sick. The maid was fired after she didn’t return to work, and she never returned the Oscar, the Los Angeles Times recounted in March 1995.

Years passed, and O’Brien’s mother died without realizing the Oscar had gone missing. The actress, now 17, attempted to reach the maid over the phone, but she was unsuccessful.

“Every time I’d go to an antique shop or flea market, I’d look around,” O’Brien told the Los Angeles Times. “I’d tell myself, ‘If I don’t lose hope, it’ll come around.’”

But it didn’t, for decades.

Then, in December 1994, antiquer Steve Neimand spotted the Oscar at the Pasadena City College flea market. He’d noticed it at another flea market two years earlier, but this time, he decided to buy it. He thought it might be worth something, and another antique collector agreed to split with him the $500 cost.

“To be honest, I thought she was the little girl in Miracle on 34th Street,” Neimand said, referring to Natalie Wood. “I don’t know that I have ever seen any of the films Margaret O’Brien was in.”

The buyers decided to sell the Oscar at an upcoming auction, and a friend of academy executive director Bruce Davis spotted the news that it would soon be for sale. Davis expected the Oscar was the replacement the academy had given O’Brien, but, no, it was the original.

Davis called a friend, who called the auction, who reached out to the Oscar’s new owners, and they generously agreed to return the award to O’Brien. The only payment Neimand requested was a photo.

Margaret O’Brien thanks Mark Nash, left, and Steve Neimand for returning her Oscar on Feb. 7, 1995. (Photo: Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty Images)

“Can I get a picture of me handing the Oscar to O’Brien so I can tell friends I once presented an Academy Award?” he remembered asking.

The pair was also given two tickets to the 1995 Academy Awards and recognition in a news conference.

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