Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    Willis O'Brien's Oscar for Best Special Effects for Mighty Joe Young (RKO, 1949). Vintage original Oscar trophy awarded to Willis O'Brien for his groundbreaking special effects in Mighty Joe Young. In the entertainment industry and the world over, the Oscar statuette is indisputably the most treasured and iconic symbol of the filmmaker's accomplishment and the public's romance with Hollywood glamour and movies.

    This vintage male Oscar statuette stands 13.25" tall with the cast metal, gold-plated figure measuring 3" wide by 10.25" tall. The beveled pewter-colored base measures 5" round at the bottom, tapered and tiered to 4" at the top, where the base attaches to the film reel that forms the integral foot of the metal statue. Sculptor George Stanley, who also fashioned the famous Muse Fountain at the Hollywood Bowl, sculpted Cedric Gibbons' original design in clay and Sachin Smith cast the statuette. Consisting of a pewter-like alloy called "Britannia metal," which is then plated in copper, nickel silver, and finally, 24-karat gold.

    The original Oscar mold was cast in 1928 at the C.W. Shumway & Sons Foundry in Batavia, Illinois. Since 1983, Oscars are fabricated each year in Chicago by Illinois manufacturer R.S. Owens & Company.

    A curved 5" x 2" cast brass engraved plaque affixed to the front of the base reads, "Academy First Award to ARKO Productions RKO Radio For The Special Effects in Mighty Joe Young." A second, 2" x .75" engraved plaque is affixed in the back, to the foot of the base and reads, "Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 1949." Retaining the original green felted bottom.

    Willis O'Brien had received a fair amount of disdain from the Hollywood establishment for turning down the first Oscar the Academy had offered him for his work on King Kong (1933). O'Brien had expressed disinterest in receiving the award unless his crew also received them. AMPAS declined to do so. At the time of the Mighty Joe Young Oscar nomination, the rules of the Academy dictated that the producer of the winning film would receive the Oscar for Best Special Effects.

    However, in recognition of his work on Mighty Joe Young and on King Kong, producer Merian C. Cooper presented the award to Willis O'Brien. Hence the award is not personalized and engraved to O'Brien.

    The statuette's finish exhibits expected age, minor rubbing, light pitting, tarnish and minor loss of plating. The base exhibits light wear with some scratching to bottom edges. Heavy tarnish to engraved plaques. This is an early example of this instantly recognizable and world-famous prize and one of an extremely few Oscars ever made available to the public. COA from Heritage Auctions. From the Personal Collection of Willis O’Brien.

    Auction Info

    Bidding Begins Approx.
    28th Monday
    Auction Dates
    16th-18th Friday-Sunday
    Proxy Bidding Begins Approx.
    5 Days
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: N/A
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 762
    Auction Type
    Signature®:  Heritage Live®:After Internet bidding closes, live bidding will take place through Your secret maximum bid placed prior to the live event will compete against the live bids. To maximize your chances of winning, enter realistic secret maximum bids on our site. Many of our proxy bidders are successful at winning lots in these auctions, and usually below their secret maximum. You can also place last minute bids directly with us by e-mailing or calling 1-866-835-3243. (Important note: Due to software and Internet latency, live bids may not register in time, so enter realistic proxy bids.)

    Signature® Floor Sessions
    Proxy bidding ends ten minutes prior to the session start time. Live Proxy bidding on Heritage Live starts 7 days before the live session begins and continues through the session. During the live auction event, bidding in person is encouraged, and Heritage Live includes streaming audio and often video during the event.
    Track Item