Oscar misses flight to Hollywood

February 13, 2009 1:47:35 PM PST
Oscar No. 3453 missed his flight. After an early-morning photo shoot; after being put in a plastic bag, tucked into a formfitting foam container, and placed in a cardboard box that was put next to seven other cardboard boxes filled with more than 40 of his Oscar buddies, somehow No. 3453 took a wrong turn.SIGN-UP: Get breaking news sent to you

Instead of being loaded onto a truck and driven to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport with the others, his foam container was inadvertently removed from the box and set aside.

So while the rest of his Oscar family headed to the airport -- an SUV carrying two gun-toting off-duty Chicago cops following close behind -- No. 3453 remained behind at the R.S. Owens factory where he and the others were brought into the world last month.

It seems someone mistook him for one of the statuettes meant to appear at an exhibit in Chicago, but No. 3453 was destined for Hollywood. An employee simply got confused, said company president Scott Siegel.

He said the employee unceremoniously drove the Oscar to the airport later in the day -- sans security -- and simply bought him a ticket.

"It's in the air," Siegel said at about 4:15 p.m.

A hired car and two beefy bodyguards met No. 3453 at Los Angeles International Airport and raced him to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' headquarters to be reunited with his family. The security men handed a cardboard box with United Airlines tape across it -- and No. 3453 inside it -- to Steve Miessner, the academy's Keeper of the Oscars.

"That's my nickname," he says, preparing to handle the statuettes by putting on a brand-new pair of his trademark white gloves. "It's not on my business card."

Officially, Miessner, 47, works as an assistant to the academy president and executive director. But he's also the only academy person who handles the Oscar trophies, from the moment they land in Los Angeles until long after they're claimed by winners. He keeps a database of every Oscar ever presented -- "even those manufactured before we started putting serial numbers on them" -- and where they are now.

Miessner will enter No. 3453 and the other 43 statuettes that arrived Thursday into the database, but he has a ritual. He likes to unpack all the boxes first.

He slices open the tape on the foam container, removes the statuette, whisks off the plastic bag that covers it and sets the Oscar on the counter in front of his desk. He looks over each one as he sets it down. He notices the felt on the bottom of one statue is crumpled. Another has a loose piece of metal rattling around in its base.

Miessner can fix it. Using eyeglass-sized tools, the Keeper of the Oscars becomes an Oscar repairman. Once in a while he has to move a shard of metal that shook loose during shipping from a freshly minted trophy, and he regularly refurbishes already-awarded Oscars that have been dinged or stand crookedly after a fall.

"I get about two a month," he says.

When he finishes unpacking, Miessner pauses a moment to admire the 44 Oscars, lined up like a proud golden army.

"They're beautiful," he says, adding that each costs $602.51 to make. "Once it's handed out, it's priceless."

Then, with a gloved hand, Miessner brings an Oscar onto his desk. He logs on to the academy's Statuettes Database Search Screen -- which only he and one computer programmer can access -- and enters the Oscar's four-digit serial number. He signs and dates the entry and files it away. He logs in each statue. When he gets to No. 3453, he makes a special note: "Missed his flight. Rode alone to Hollywood."

When all the trophies are accounted for, Miessner slowly repacks the golden guys into their plastic bags and foam containers. He writes each one's serial number across the side and loads them onto a cart.

Now, it's off to a secret vault, where, along with the others, No. 3453 has about a week to ponder his fate before being escorted to the Kodak Theatre for the big night. Will 3453 journey on to India, perhaps? Be given a place of honor in the Brangelina nursery? Get scooped into the custody of a waste-collecting robot?

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