An Oscar statuette earned by Frank Capra's 1942 documentary Prelude to War, the first film in the United States Army Special Services' seven-picture Why We Fight series, has been removed from the auction block and returned to the U.S. Army. The Return of the Prelude to War Oscar took place yesterday, September 3, 2008, at a ceremony at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study in Hollywood.
The statuette in question is not the original Academy Award given to Prelude to War. As per the Academy' press release, it is “a duplicate requested by and granted to the Department of Defense in 1958 in connection with a special exhibition.” In subsequent years, the statuette remained in the care of the Army Pictorial Center.
“The disposition of the statuette following the closure of the Center in 1970 is unclear,” the Academy's release adds, “but when Academy officials saw that Christie's auction house was offering the statuette for sale they notified the Army which asserted its claim on the Award.”
The original Oscar for Prelude to War remains in the possession of Frank Capra's heirs.
A Columbia Pictures contract director from the late '20s to the late '30s, Frank Capra was also Academy president in the mid-to-late '30s. He won three Best Director Academy Awards: It Happened One Night (1934), starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable; Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur; and You Can't Take It with You (1938), starring Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Lionel Barrymore, and Edward Arnold.
Additionally, Frank Capra was nominated three other times in the Best Director category: Lady for a Day (1932-33), featuring May Robson, Warren William, Glenda Farrell, and Jean Parker; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), with Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Claude Rains, and Thomas Mitchell; and It's a Wonderful Life (1946), with James Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore.
Among Frank Capra's other movies, spanning nearly four decades, are Dirigible, Platinum Blonde, Lost Horizon, State of the Union, A Hole in the Head, and Pocketful of Miracles.
As its title implies, the Why We Fight documentary series was supposed to teach American soldiers and civilians the reasons for the U.S.'s involvement in the deadliest global conflict in history. Prelude to War was narrated by Walter Huston, future Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner (for his son John Huston's 1948 adventure drama The Treasure of the Sierra Madre).
Photos: Todd Wawrychuk / © Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Prelude to War Oscar statuette photo), Courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library (Frank Capra and John Ford photo).