Oscar: Thalberg Memorial Award to Zanuck to be Sold

February 24, 2008–Though the Oscar statuettes are more widely known, perhaps no other Academy Award is as important as this one–the very first Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award ever presented. Honoring the contributions of both Thalberg and Darryl F. Zanuck to the art of film, it stands as a wonderful association between these two giants of Hollywood motion pictures.

This award was first conceived by the Academy to honor Irving G. Thalberg (1899-1936), the brilliant MGM executive, a genius known as the “boy Wonder” who died tragically at the age of 37.

After first becoming head of production at the Universal Film Manufacturing Co. at the age of 20, he soon became vice president and head of production for Louis B. Mayer, then assumed the position of vice president and supervisor of production when Mayer’s studio became part of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Over the next eight years under Thalberg, MGM became Hollywood’s most prestigious film studio with Thalberg personally supervising the studio’s top productions including discovering story properties, refining scripts, editing and supervising reshoots.

The Thalberg Memorial Award is the rarest and most prestigious honor bestowed by the Academy. Voted by the Academy’s Board of Governors, it is presented to “creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” The first recipient was Darryl F. Zanuck. Like Thalberg, Zanuck began his career in Hollywood at a very young age, first working as a scriptwriter for Warner Bros. At the tender age of 23, he became head of production for Warner. Soon thereafter, he led the change to sound films with The Jazz Singer (1927).

Four years later co-founded Twentieth-Century Pictures (1933), and after the merger with Fox Films in 1935, Zanuck assumed the leadership of Twentieth-Century Fox, bringing such successful titles as The Grapes of Wrath (1940) How Green was My Valley (1941), The Longest Day (1962) and The Sound of Music (1965) to the silver screen.

The Thalberg Memorial Award is only given an average of once every other year. As of this writing, there are only 36 recipients, and it has not been presented in over seven years (since 2000, to Dino De Laurentiis). The fraternity of Thalberg Award honorees are some of the most important and influential figures in the history of motion pictures, including such luminaries as David O. Selznick, Walt Disney, Samuel Goldwyn, Cecil B. DeMille, Jack Warner, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.

This award was the very first Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award ever presented, given to Darryl F. Zanuck in 1938. At the lower front-facing portion of the base, an engraved bronze nameplate reads, “Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award to Darryl F. Zanuck for the Most Consistent High Quality of Production Achievement During 1937”. In the years before 1937 Zanuck was responsible for such classics as Public Enemy, 42nd Street, Little Caesar, and Les Miserables. Zanuck subsequently won two more Thalberg Awards, in 1944 and 1950; he’s the only person to have ever won three.

Zanuck’s Thalberg Award measures 13 in. tall, with a green marble base measuring 3 in. diameter at its widest point. The bronze of both the bust and the nameplate exhibits a slight patina from age. It is larger in size and more dramatic looking that any of the later Thalberg bronzes – it stands alone in the history of Hollywood.

Expected Sale Price: over $150,000. Originally acquired from Darryl Zanuck’s daughter, Darrilyn Zanuck. Lot includes a handwritten note of provenance and sale from Ms. Zanuck on personal stationery, along with assorted Zanuck memorabilia items including period family photographs.