- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2008

LOS ANGELES

With a hand from Hollywood, the Army has received a long-lost Oscar back into its ranks.

The little statue took a long and largely unknown path before being passed from Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Sid Ganis to an Army general during a Wednesday-night ceremony and screening.

In 1942, a few weeks after Pearl Harbor, filmmaker Frank Capra joined the Army and was assigned to create a film series, “Why We Fight.”

Maj. Capra, who had directed such films as “It Happened One Night,” “Lost Horizon” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” was told to create the documentary “Prelude to War.”

He showed the finished work to Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall, who insisted that President Roosevelt see the film.

In his 1971 autobiography, “The Name Above the Title,” Mr. Capra wrote of a screening at the White House. Amid the applause at the end, Roosevelt exclaimed: “Every man, woman and child in the world should see this film!”

“Prelude to War” was at first seen solely by soldiers in Army quarters, but the Army eventually relented, and 250 prints were sent to theaters across the country. The academy staged a screening of “Prelude to War” Wednesday at the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study in Hollywood.

“Sixty-five years later, ‘Prelude to War’ still continues to be one of the greatest documentaries ever made,” said Mr. Ganis, the emcee for the screening.

In 1942, “Prelude to War” won an Oscar for best documentary by Army Special Services, but, Mr. Ganis explained, the prize wasn’t an Oscar but a plaque. All of the awards were in plaster, not metal, during the war because of the metal shortage.

After the war, the Army received an Oscar statue, and it was stored in the Army Pictorial Center. When the center closed in 1970, the Oscar disappeared.

Mr. Capra, who died in 1991, made other documentaries for the military during the war, including “The Nazis Strike,” “The Battle of Britain,” “The Negro Soldier” and “Divide and Conquer.”

Earlier this year, Christie’s auction house advertised an Oscar for sale. It was the missing “Prelude to War” award. The academy notified the Army, which claimed the prize. So on Wednesday, Mr. Ganis presented a polished 8-pound Oscar to Brig. Gen. Jeffrey E. Phillips, deputy chief of public affairs for the Army.

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