He’s not getting an Oscar, but he is getting the booty. And a ticket to the main event to boot. For Hollywood.com’s complete Oscar coverage, go here.
Willie Fulgear, the man who found 52 out of 55 stolen Oscars, was presented here today with a $50,000 reward for returning the MIA gold-plated statuettes, which he found while rummaging around a garbage bin.
“It feels good,” said Fulgear, the 61-year-old self-employed scrap-metal dealer said at an afternoon press conference at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, where he was proclaimed a “local hero.”
After the money, the other big question involving Fulgear was: So, is he getting his ticket to Sunday’s Oscar ceremony?
The answer today from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: Yes. In fact, Fulgear’s getting two tickets: One for himself, and one for a guest (he says he’s taking his 22-year-old son Allen).
“Anybody who says honest don’t pay, send ’em to me,” Fulgear said. “I’ll tell ’em it pays. I’m a poor man and I stumbled across gold, and I gave it back. A lot of people wouldn’t do that, but my Mama didn’t raise me like that.”
Fulgear said he intends to use the reward money to buy a house in his native Mississippi.
Roadway Express, which cut Fulgear’s check, transported the 55 freshly minted Oscar statuettes from the Chicago foundry, where they were made, to a loading dock in Los Angeles, where they disappeared. The trucking company reported the awards missing March 10, and it offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the thieves’ arrest and conviction.
Technically, Fulgear didn’t qualify for that reward, but the trucking firm decided to give him a “special award” anyway, in appreciation of his honesty, said T.J. O’Connor, a Roadway vice president. The original reward may yet be given to a tipster — who thus far remains anonymous — who helped lead police to the culprits, he said.
Fulgear’s rewards may have only begun. He says numerous media organizations are in a bidding war to hire him as their official Oscar mascot. He won’t name names, but says the offers are as high as $10,000 so far. “I’ve talked to everybody, from the roaches all the way up to the gods,” he muses.
Whichever offer he chooses, come Sunday night he’s assured of arriving at the Shrine Auditorium in a limousine, decked out in black-tie attire; ironically, the Shrine is just a few miles from the lower-middle-class neighborhood where Fulgear and his son rent a one-bedroom apartment.
“I can’t remember the last time I rode in a limo. And I really can’t remember the last time I wore a tux,” he says.
Fulgear’s odyssey began Sunday night. In preparation for an upcoming move, he was searching for empty boxes to pack his belongings, when he literally stumbled upon the trophies near a supermarket Dumpster. Fulgear’s find netted the return of 52 of the missing 55. Three of the trophies are still unrecovered.
Two Roadway Express employees were arrested in connection with the case, but prosecutors declined to file charges against one of them. Police have said more arrests might be forthcoming. Initially, police stopped short of saying that Fulgear was not under investigation for the crime. But as of Wednesday, Fulgear was completely ruled out as a suspect, police said.
Fulgear says plans are in the works to bring him onstage at the Oscars with host Billy Crystal, although officials at the Academy wouldn’t confirm it. Asked if he’s nervous about appearing live on worldwide TV, he said, “No, I’m not nervous. I been on TV all this week.” Friday morning, he’ll wake up early for a 4 a.m. interview with Katie Couric on NBC’s “Today” show, he said.
Fulgear’s pre-Oscar makeover has already begun: He spent Thursday morning getting a haircut and a shave, and when he arrived at the police station to receive his check, he exchanged his old blazer and fedora-style hat for a brand-spanking-new baseball cap and sports jacket, both emblazoned with the Roadway Express logo.
But he insisted that he isn’t destitute, as some news stories have portrayed him. Fulgear — a former soul musician who claims to have opened for artists like Al Green and Sam Cooke during the 1950s and ‘60s, in Chicago — is a dealer of junked auto engines and transmissions; his motto, he said, is “your trash is my cash.”
“I make pretty good money at what I do. But $50,000 all at once — yeah, that’s a lot to me,” Fulgear said.
As for his Oscar predictions, Fulgear is keeping silent. Son Allen admitted that they last movie they saw was “Saving Private Ryan.”
“We liked that one a lot. But I don’t know if it’s nominated or not,” Allen Fulgear said.
Hey, give the guy a break. His dad saved the Oscars.