Winners, baby that award with a diaper

Times Staff Writer

The Oscar doesn't come with an owner's guide, but Steve Meissner thinks a page of instructions might not be a bad idea. An administrator for the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Meissner was the main caretaker of the statuettes Sunday night, and as he dusted and polished an hour before show time, he offered some advice for the care and feeding of Oscar:

No cleaning fluid or polish is required and will in fact damage the golden sheen.

Regular polishing, however, is a good idea. "I use a diaper, which seems to work well," he said. "But I try not to let it show," he added, glancing at the cloth diaper in his gloved hand that was indeed keeping a low profile.

Ironically, the ocean breezes are detrimental to Oscar's health. "I can always tell how close a winner lives to the ocean by the state of the statue," he said. "The ones who live near the beach take on a greenish tinge and get these pockmarks."

But no matter how well cared for, the Oscars' patina lasts only 14 or 15 years, at which time they need to be re-dipped, a service the academy provides gratis.

"People don't want new ones," Meissner said. "They get emotionally attached to the actual statue they won. So we just re-dip them and they look good as new."

To preserve the secrecy of the winners, the statuettes are not engraved with names or categories until after the show. But each has a serial number that Meissner must record.

He ensured there would be enough gold to go around by adding up the greatest possibility of winners.

"I usually take 6 to 10 back," he said. Last year, he was very glad there were a few extra Oscars on hand. Turned out, one of the statuettes had a screw loose -- the little man wasn't in danger of falling off his pedestal, but when lifted, the trophy had a definite rattle.

And a rattling Oscar is just not acceptable.


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