Movie Fan Becomes an Oscar Hero : N.Y. Man Dips Into Savings to Restore Award to Winner

For the moment, the brightest star on Hollywood Boulevard is Bill Kaiser, a 41-year-old former hospital administrator from Tuxedo Park, N.Y.

In a private awards ceremony this morning in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel--the location of the first Academy Awards ceremony 61 years ago--Kaiser reunited 84-year-old art director Lyle Wheeler with the Oscar he won in 1959 for “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Kaiser, who flew into Los Angeles only three days earlier, depleted most of his savings account of 16 years to come up with the $21,250 necessary to purchase the Oscar from a Long Beach couple who stumbled across Wheeler’s 24-karat statuette--and four more just like it--three years ago at a storage facility auction.

Wheeler has worked on more than 400 films and was nominated for 29 art direction Academy Awards over his 50-year career. He won five of them, his first for “Gone With the Wind” in 1939.


After financial setbacks forced Wheeler out of his home and into a Santa Monica hotel room, he packed his belongings--including all five of the Oscars--into cardboard boxes and placed them in storage. As Wheeler plummeted deeper into debt, his storage bill soared to more than $30,000, until the storage facility finally auctioned off his goods to pay his bill.

Kaiser was having dinner with his wife, Joan, when he heard on the evening news that Wheeler’s Oscars were owned by a Long Beach couple who were planning to auction them off.

Kaiser recalled the moment with a trembling voice: “I couldn’t believe it. My wife turned to me and said, ‘Oh, you know who he is?’ Know who he is? Every other movie on television has his name on it! All kinds of emotions flooded me: I was angry, I was depressed, I was moved. But mostly I felt very bad.