Oscar is in the house: Trophies come to the Kodak

February 21, 2009 6:38:16 PM PST
A group of security workers stand at attention as two black SUVs, each driven by armed guards, pull up to the artists' entrance to the Kodak Theatre. Inside are the Academy Awards' most famous guests. Men in black suits open the car doors. There sit 10 cardboard boxes carrying the show's critical stars: Oscar No. 3453 and 51 of his fellow Oscar statuettes. Steve Miessner, the Keeper of the Oscars, rides along with them.

He and the security guards load the boxes onto two dollies, and each is sent up a backstage freight elevator accompanied by an armed guard.

Miessner leads them down a winding hallway and into an office in the bowels of the Kodak. Two guards stand at the door as he dons his trademark white gloves and begins unpacking the precious cargo: 50 foam containers, each with one Oscar inside.

No. 3453 is among the first he unpacks. Miessner examines it and notices a bit of packaging glue stuck to the statue. He pulls a blue velvet cloth from his toolbox, which also includes tiny wrenches and a pen light, and gently polishes.

One by one, Miessner opens the foam containers and places the golden men on a desk.

"I usually set them all out and put little medallions on them, because backstage you can't see the serial numbers," he says.

Miessner, 47, officially works as an assistant to the film academy president and executive director. But he's also the only academy person who handles the Oscar trophies.

He's responsible for tracking all 52 statuettes reserved for Sunday's ceremony. He'll stand backstage as the awards are presented, noting the serial number of each Oscar and its recipient. After the show, he'll log the information into the academy's Statuettes Database.

But today he's making sure each trophy is accounted for and camera ready. He writes "3453" on a white paper tag and ties it with string around the Oscar's neck, like a little pendant. Miessner, who has served as Keeper of the Oscars for five years, says some nights he wakes in a panic, dreaming that an Oscar sent onstage during the show was still wearing it's numbered necklace.

"In the back of my mind I start to have all these fantasies about what could be going wrong," he says, noting that an entire shipment of Oscars was stolen - and eventually recovered - in 2002. (Hence all the armed guards.) Just knowing the Oscars are safely at the Kodak brings Miessner some relief.

"They're here. I know they're protected," he says. "They're stationary. They're not going anywhere."

Until Sunday, when No. 3453 and his brothers will be sent off to their new homes.

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