Thursday 22 September 2016

Leonardo DiCaprio, the Malaysians and Marlon Brando's Missing Oscar

Leonardo DiCaprio (center) flanked by Red Granite Pictures co-founders Riza Aziz (left) and Joey McFarland at the 2014 Oscars.
Leonardo DiCaprio (center) flanked by Red Granite Pictures co-founders Riza Aziz (left) and Joey McFarland at the 2014 Oscars.
Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Leonardo DiCaprio, the Malaysians and Marlon Brando's Missing Oscar

"It would be great to get it back," says the late actor's archivist of the lost statuette for 'On  the  Waterfront' — given as a gift to Leo by his scandal-plagued friends at Red Granite Pictures — as the Academy refuses to discuss its reigning best actor's misbegotten award.

Almost 20 years after his first best actor nomination, Leonardo DiCaprio was starting to look disconcertingly like the Susan Lucci of the Academy Awards. But in November 2012 — perhaps as a thoughtful nod to the fact that he'd yet to win an Oscar despite three nominations, but was widely considered to be deserving of one — he received Marlon Brando's best actor statuette for 1954's On the Waterfront as a 38th birthday gift. The gifters were his friends and business associates at Red Granite Pictures, the primary backers behind The Wolf of Wall Street, which had begun shooting that August.

As it happens, he'd be nominated and ultimately lose again for his starring role in the Martin Scorsese film about financial corruption, which DiCaprio also produced, before finally being redeemed this year with The Revenant. Meanwhile, Red Granite's co-founder Riza Aziz and purported financier Jho Low would go on to become central figures in a $3 billion Malaysian embezzlement scandal that has rocked the country, implicated Prime Minister Najib Razak and triggered an ongoing U.S. Department of Justice asset-seizure investigation. The scandal also has drawn attention to DiCaprio's personal and professional ties to the pair, who are alleged to have siphoned money from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB — meant for in-country economic development purposes — to enrich themselves and advance their own global business interests. (In August, The Hollywood Reporter examined how DiCaprio's opaquely structured eponymous foundation has benefited financially from the relationship as well.)
Brando's Oscar was reportedly acquired in the fall of 2012 for approximately $600,000 through a New Jersey memorabilia dealer. THR has learned this person is Ralph DeLuca, whom DiCaprio previously had developed a relationship with due to their mutual interest in DeLuca's specialty: vintage movie posters. The still-active Red Granite — whose next project is a remake of the 1973 prison-break film Papillon starring Rami Malek and Charlie Hunnam — declined to comment, as did the Department of Justice and DeLuca.

An Oscar bylaw, bolstered by a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in 1991 that was affirmed again in 2015, forbids post-1951 honorees or anyone who inherits a statuette to peddle it in any way without first offering it back to the Academy for $10.

But regardless of whether DiCaprio's birthday gift — which he has proudly displayed on the mantel at his Hollywood Hills home — violates Academy policy, the On the Waterfront statuette has other baggage. THR has learned that Brando never sold his award; rather, it simply went missing.

Brando won his first Oscar in 1955 for Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront.

Avra Douglas, the Brando estate's executor and archivist (and the star's assistant for 14 years until his death of respiratory failure in 2004 at 80), says the award disappeared while he was alive. "He was trying to track it down and kept hitting dead ends," she says. "There was some rumor that [late actor turned agent] Marty Ingels of all people had it, but that turned out to be untrue. It would be great to get it back."

For years the lore in elite memorabilia circles has been that, in a fit of anger, Brando tossed the statuette out his window, after which his then-young son Christian took it up to his treehouse and, toying with it like a hammer, broke its base. Douglas calls this "undoubtedly hogwash," observing that the late Christian — who later served time in prison for manslaughter — "never had a treehouse."

Regardless, the statuette ended up circulating among private enthusiasts, drawing a public rebuke from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1988 when an auctioneer based out of a storefront just off Hollywood Boulevard sold it for $13,500 on behalf of a Maine collector. Oscars "shouldn't be items of commerce; it's less than dignified," Bruce Davis, the Academy's then-executive administrator, told the Los Angeles Times.

In a statement to THR, the Academy now notes: "We have a long history of enforcing our bylaws against the sale of post-1951 Oscars, and, where possible, even those awarded pre-1951. We have on many occasions prevented the sale of Oscars and enforced the Academy's rights to recover the statuettes."

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