The retrieved Oscars were still warm from the TV crews' lights at
the press conference where they'd been displayed when the jokes began,
all a variation of the same thing: "That's about the only way a brother's
gonna get an Oscar in Hollywood."
Well, that's a slight exaggeration, but the spirit of the observation
isn't too far off the mark. In its 72-year history, the Academy of Motion
Picture Arts and Sciences was been a bit, well, stingy in awarding its
coveted little gold statuettes to actors who happen to be significantly
browner than the general membership. Hattie McDaniel was the first person
to win one in 1940 (best supporting actress) for her role as Scarlett
O'Hara's devoted slave, Mammy, in 1939's "Gone With the Wind." Since
then, there have been so few more that we can name them all here:
* Sidney Poitier won as best actor in 1963 for his role as itinerant
laborer Homer Smith in "Lilies Of the Field."
* Louis Gossett Jr. won best supporting actor for his portrayal of a
tough drill instructor in the 1982 movie "An Officer and a Gentleman."
* Denzel Washington won best supporting actor for his role as a
slave-turned-soldier in 1989's "Glory" and is nominated this year for
best actor for his depiction of boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter in "The
* Whoopi Goldberg won best supporting actress for her performance as a
sharp-talking medium helping to find the killer of a New York banker in
the 1990 film "Ghost."
* Cuba Gooding Jr. won best supporting actor for his 1996 role as a
"show-me-the-money" football player in "Jerry Maguire."
As Porky Pig would note, "That's all, folks"--until Willie Fulgear
found the filched Oscars that made him, temporarily anyway, the most
Oscar-laden player in all of Los Angeles. Of any color.
Fulgear, 61, was looking for moving boxes in dumpsters near his
Koreatown home when he stumbled across some suspiciously heavy cartons,
opened one and found himself face to face with Oscar. Suspecting foul
play, he loaded the boxes into his car, drove to his home and told his
son. They surfed the Net and discovered that some Oscars had, indeed,
been stolen. There was even a hefty reward posted. Cool! They called the
police and a local news station. (Prudent move, that: Black folks in
places like Los Angeles and New York have had infelicitous interactions
with the police enough lately that it is a good idea to have a camera
crew along. Just in case.)
The police came, took the boxes and asked Fulgear to show them where
he'd found them, which he was happy to do.
Fade to black. Now, focus on Oscar night with Fulgear, $50,000 richer
with his reward, dressed splendidly in formal wear, his Significant Other
on his arm, walking proudly down the red carpet, past the media, clicking
and whirring away on wooden risers, past fans screaming for the famous
Oops. Somebody call rewrite. Because so far, that doesn't seem to be
in the script.
Officials of Roadway Express, the company that employed the alleged
thieves, is dragging its heels about delivering the promised reward until
they've closed the investigation. (Let's see now: Fulgear isn't a
suspect, he found what was missing and notified the proper authorities,
but he has to wait for his reward because someone else hasn't completed
And when a representative of the academy was asked if Fulgear would be
a guest at this Sunday's ceremony, he sputtered and hemmed and hawed and
said the equivalent of, "We'll have to see how things work out."
How shabby is that? Fifty-two of the 55 missing Oscars have been
found, and the big night will go on with the original statuettes, not
last-minute replacements. If Roadway Express and the academy had any
class, Fulgear would get a $50,000 check before week's end, decent seats
to the ceremonies and tickets to the Governor's Ball afterward. But
class, like Oscars for black actors, seems to be in short supply.
Except at Fulgear's end. He was classy enough to be amused at all of
this: "Look," he told a television crew Monday, "what did I have, 52
Oscars? That's more than anybody else. That's got to be some kind of
Maybe he should get a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.