Life with an Oscar on the Shelf

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An Academy Award-winning actress (for 1984's The Year of Living Dangerously) reflects on her experience. She notes that Oscar is "a thin-skinned man" who manages to remind her: "It's not about you."

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Tonight, Hollywood's elite will assemble at the Kodak Theater to find out who won this year's Academy Awards. Linda Hunt won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1984 for her role in The Year of Living Dangerously. She has this advice for those who will be taking a golden statuette home.

Ms. LINDA HUNT (Actress): Several years after I won the Oscar, I returned him to the Academy because he had begun to peel. A narrow ribbon of gold curled upwards along the front of his ankle to the center of his knee, and hung there, leaving behind a jagged trail of some dark metal. Oscar is heavy, all right, but not with gold. The Academy re-dipped him for me and sent him back, good as gold.

One evening in New York, just after Oscar moved in, a guy spotted me getting out of a cab. He grabbed my shoulders and put his face close to mine. You should be thrilled, he yelled. You should be delirious, and he shook me for emphasis. Winning anything in front of half the world means the world changes. At first it feels as if the change is within you, but it's not. It's them. Strangest how they love you as you cross the street. Cabbies and truck drivers honk their horns and blow you kisses out their windows. Women tell you their stories in the aisle at the supermarket. The homeless guy on the subway stops playing his harmonica and goes down on his knees, and none of it has anything to do with you, not really. As I write this, Oscar nods in agreement from the bookcase across the room.

After all these years, he's peeling again, but this time I'm not returning him. The more of his alloyed self he reveals to me, the more charming I find him. As a man whose gold is only skin deep, a thin-skinned man, vain and helplessly grandiose, I am quite fond of him. I am peeling and worn myself, turned inward and selfward too much of the time. At the coffee bar on Melrose, the new waiter strikes up a conversation. You won an Oscar, right? I smile and nod. Right. And you were greatest the judge on LA Law. The Practice, I corrected. Right, The Practice. Very funny. So why don't I see you on the big screen anymore? He looks into my eyes, earnestly waiting for an answer. I cringe. It's not 9:00 AM yet. I'm at the beginning of my day, not strong yet. I'm not ready to take on the ups and downs of my career with a stranger. I stir my cappuccino defensively.

Finally I say, I'm afraid I don't control these things. Right, I know, he says, but who does, your agent? I wish I knew the answer to that question, I tell him, grabbing my cardboard cup in preparation for a getaway. You know, I'd just rather not have this conversation right now. Is that all right? Right, oh sure, the waiter says.

I creep out to my car, slopping hot coffee on my fingers as I go and sit a moment behind the wheel, gathering myself. I think of Oscar at home on the shelf. I imagine him laughing softly and reminding me: it's not about you.

HANSEN: Linda Hunt's essay was originally written for member station KPCC in Pasadena.

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