Tuesday 1 March 2011

An Oscar in the Archive

This was something I wrote when I worked at Stirling University Archives - I thought with the Oscars being topical right now I would finally get round to putting it up!

'An Oscar in the Archive', Kathryn Mackenzie, Archivist/Research Assistant, Lindsay Anderson Collection, University Archives, University of Stirling

One of the more unusual items found when the Lindsay Anderson Collection arrived at the University of Stirling was an Oscar statuette.  The ‘Oscar’ was found in the Collection when it was being unpacked by the University Archivist, Karl Magee.  The initial excitement at having found an Oscar gave way to a realisation that, going by the weight and material of the statue, it was highly unlikely it was an original!  The Lindsay Anderson Collection now contained a fake Oscar rather than the real thing, but it is precisely this fact that makes the story so interesting.

Lindsay Anderson's 'Oscar'
© Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling Archives

We knew from research into Lindsay Anderson’s films that he had won an Oscar, in 1954, for a film he co-directed with Guy Brenton entitled Thursday’s Children.  Set in the Royal School for the Deaf in Margate this 25 minute film shows a group of deaf children in their classroom.  The film is narrated by Richard Burton who describes the stories of the individual children and the learning process they go through to enable them to communicate.   Thursday’s Children won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short in 1954.  So, the question we faced now was, given that Anderson had won an Oscar, why was the one in the Archive a fake?!

LA/5/01/1/1/4 Letter from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to Brigitte Roelen (Lindsay Anderson's secretary), 17/08/1973
© Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling Archives

It wasn’t until a few months later, whilst going through the correspondence, that this puzzle was solved.  A letter from Lindsay Anderson’s secretary to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, dated 8 August 1973, was the first step in uncovering the story of the Oscar.  She explains that the Award for Thursday’s Children was collected by Anderson’s co-director as Anderson was unable to attend.  The letter is to enquire if it is possible for Anderson to receive a replica of the Oscar statue.  The Executive Director of the Academy replied only a week later on 17 August 1973.  He explained that “Our Board of Governors has established a long standing policy that no duplicate statuettes can be issued”.  Well, this must have disappointed Anderson greatly, enough in fact that he discussed it with his friends.  How do we know this?  Because at a meeting of the Lindsay Anderson Memorial Foundation’ we found out it was friends of his who bought him a replica Oscar to fill the gap on his mantelpiece where the statuette should have stood!  So we now knew the story behind the Oscar in our collection and, although a real Oscar would have been a wonderful addition to the Collection, I think the story the fake Oscar tells is far more interesting.  

'Oscar' on display in the James Hockey Gallery, University College for the Creative Arts, Farnham
© Lindsay Anderson Collection, University of Stirling Archives

The ‘Oscar’ and the letters to and from the Academy are now regular features in an exhibition ‘Is That All There Is? An exhibition of archive material from the Lindsay Anderson Collection’.  This exhibition has been on display at the Changing Room Gallery in Stirling, The MacRobert Arts Centre at the University of Stirling and the James Hockey Gallery at the University College for the Creative Arts, Farnham.

(Originally written 14/08/2010)

Post Script:
The Oscar is now part of a new exhibition display Treasure from our Collections at the newly refurbished University of Stirling Archives and Special Collection

1 comment:

  1. You can search the Lindsay Anderson Archive via the online catalogue - http://www.calmview.eu/stirling/CalmView/Default.aspx