Joe Pesci was the one who started all of this. He was the one who inspired us to begin the reclamation program, back in ‘94. That’s when he starred as a wisecracking homeless man in a movie called With Honors, and forced the folks at the Academy to realize that perhaps an Oscar shouldn’t be a lifetime honor.
In the years following his win for GoodFellas, Pesci’s choices of projects — The Super, The Public Eye, Lethal Weapon 3, Home Alone 2, Jimmy Hollywood and so on — had made us realize that maybe he wasn’t an especially fine actor after all. Maybe his performance as a pint-sized blowhard was simply a case of a director finding a role ideally suited to an actor’s limitations. What is more, we were getting embarrassed: The prestige of an Academy Award is entirely dependent upon the worth the audience confers upon it. And seeing an ad for With Honors, “starring Academy Award winner Joe Pesci” — well, that diminishes the value of our award.
So, we took action. We convened a board meeting and voted, 9 to 3, to reclaim Pesci’s Oscar. One of our board members knew a guy — we’ll call him Jimmy — who’d done security work for a few studios, and was known to be willing to do other people’s dirty work. So one night, Jimmy slipped past Pesci’s security system, broke into his home and took his trophy, leaving behind a small note explaining that, on the strength of his recent work, the Academy had decided to rescind his Oscar.
Well, that decision broke open the floodgates. Once we’d taken back Pesci’s Oscar, everyone on the board began thinking about other award recipients who had squandered their talents and tarnished the trophy. We all had our pet causes — Marisa Tomei, Kevin Costner, Cher.
We started calling Jimmy more and more often. He was an amiable fellow, a big guy with a buzz cut and a baby face. He’d actually been a film student before entering what he liked to call the “personal security and odd-job” business. Every time he did a job for us, he and I would meet at a Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset, he’d hand over the statuette in a shopping bag, and we’d talk about Bresson’s ingenious use of amateur performers, or Ozu’s camera setups. Neither of us was worried about Jimmy being caught: We knew that the actors would never dream of calling the police to report the burglary. An actor would rather die than admit that the Academy had reappropriated his award.
Jimmy and the Academy had a nice arrangement — until one night in mid-‘97, when we had a benefit for film preservation or somesuch. I saw Tom Hanks there, and made my way across the room to say hello. Tom and I aren’t friends, but we’ve seen each other at plenty of these events, and we’ve always gotten along great. “Tom!” I said, and stuck out my hand. He simply stared at it for a long, uncomfortable moment. “What’s wrong?” I said. “Oh, nothing,” he replied. “Except, maybe, for the fact that my home is missing one of its Oscars. Thanks a lot, pal.” He informed me that he’d returned home from a dinner party a few nights before, only to find his Oscar for Philadelphia missing, replaced by a note explaining that, owing to the hideousness of That Thing You Do!, the Academy had chosen to rescind it. Tom showed me the note, which explained that not only was his movie a glorification of the theft of black music by white performers, but it was the worst rock-and-roll movie since the Monkees starred in Head. It also cited the film’s “sitcom-style lighting.” I was horrified: None of the board members had even discussed That Thing You Do!
I rushed to call Jimmy, but he no longer returned my calls. The other board members and I spent a frantic week calling every living Oscar winner, trying to determine if any of the others had lost their statuettes. As it turned out, Goldie Hawn, Marlon Brando, Shelley Winters, Sir Richard Attenborough, Rod Steiger, Mira Sorvino, F. Murray Abraham, Sean Connery and Ernest Borgnine all reported having been burglarized in the past two years. Jimmy had left lengthy notes for each of them, detailling the shortcomings that had prompted this decision. (The note he wrote to Brando was particularly savage, arguing as it did that his approach to Method acting had become so eccentric and mannered that it was, in fact, far more articifial than the formal approach that the pioneers of the Method had so disdained. Also, Jimmy added, The Island of Dr. Moreau was simply inexcusable.)
We’ve been trying to track down Jimmy ever since, but the man has gone underground — only occasionally do I get a report that confirms that he’s back in action. A few weeks after Lost in Space came out, I got a terse note from William Hurt’s agent informing me that his client did not appreciate our rogue tactics. Martin Landau no longer returns my calls. And, most distressingly, on the very evening of the 1999 ceremony, Roberto Benigni was beaten and robbed of both his trophies behind the Dorothy Chandler Pavillon. (I know what you’re thinking: A lot of people had a motive for that one. But Benigni informed me that, in between blows, his assailant had argued persuasively that Life Is Beautiful was a bastardization of the work of Marcel Carne. That’s Jimmy.)
The Academy has tried every means at its disposal to track down Jimmy. The police have been unable to help us. I’m not sure what we can do next. But I will say this: A few months ago, I sat through a screening of Dungeons & Dragons. If I were Jeremy Irons, I’d get my trophy to a safe-deposit box, pronto.