Harold Russell Selling ‘Best Years of Our Lives’ Oscar : Movies: Academy president Karl Malden pleads with the actor not to auction off his 1946 Academy Award on Thursday. Russell says he needs the money.

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From Staff and Wire Reports

Harold Russell, the former Army instructor who won an Academy Award as a handless sailor in “The Best Years of Our Lives,” is selling the golden statuette to the highest bidder--over the protests of those who awarded it.

“My wife has to have an eye operation and we had a problem with the house and I need some money,” the 78-year-old Russell said in a telephone interview from his home in Hyannisport, Mass.

The Oscar that Russell won as best supporting actor in the 1946 film will be sold Thursday in New York by autograph specialist Herman Darvick, who estimated it will bring $20,000 to $40,000.


Actor Karl Malden, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has asked Russell to reconsider. In a letter, Malden said the academy knew of no other instance in which an Oscar was sold by its recipient, and that only rarely have descendants or heirs sold the coveted statuettes.

“These Oscars . . . should not become objects of mere commerce,” he said.

Malden wrote to Russell after the academy saw an advertisement for the Oscar auction in the July 13 edition of weekly Variety. The two men subsequently spoke by telephone.

“I don’t know why anybody would be critical,” said Russell, who was paid $10,000 for his role in the movie and received no residuals. “My wife’s health is much more important than sentimental reasons.”

Over the years, Russell, a non-actor tapped for the role in the coming-home drama, has worked on behalf of veterans and the handicapped, operated his own public relations firm and run a company that manufactured plastic baggage tags.

He appeared in an episode of television’s “China Beach” and in the movie “Inside Moves.”

Russell actually received two Oscars for “The Best Years of Our Lives”--one for acting and one for “bringing aid and comfort to disabled veterans through the medium of motion pictures.”

Russell lost his hands when a defective fuse exploded a charge of TNT he was holding as he instructed a demolition squad at Camp Mackall, N.C., on D-Day, June 6, 1944.


“Your own statuettes in particular are among the best known that the academy has ever awarded,” Malden wrote. “While that fact may give them additional luster on the open market, it also gives particular poignancy to the possibility that either of them could be sold away like an autographed baseball and consigned to who knows what future history.”

Russell said he rejected Malden’s offer of a $20,000 loan from the academy if he would give it his Oscar. The academy was unable to confirm the offer Thursday because Malden is out of town.

“I’m not asking for sympathy. I feel bad about it,” Russell said. “Inside me, I look on my mantelpiece and see one Oscar and the other should be there, and it’s not.”