Trojan Tales

A Hollywood mystery at USC

Ryan Coleman investigates family lore and campus rumors surrounding a famous piece of Hollywood paraphernalia that may have lived at USC.

Gable winning the Oscar for his performance in It Happened One Night in 1935.

Family lore or campus secret? Ryan Coleman tracks down a Hollywood rumor in the halls of the Doheny Library.

I just started at USC, and my uncle Jeff, who went here in the ‘70s, recently told me a story of his time there that I could not believe. It all starts at the Doheny Library.

Oh, I think I almost used to live in the Doheny Library. It was a great place to study.

One day, Jeff was looking for a piece of artwork in the special collections. He asked a librarian for help, and that librarian whisked him deep into a maze of backrooms.

He was walking along, looking at things, and I happened to notice what I thought was an academy award statue on the bottom shelf. I said, “What’s this?” And he just goes, matter-of-factly, “Oh, that’s Clark Gable’s oscar,” and keeps on looking.

What? I could not believe it. I do not believe it. Clark gable’s academy award for it happened one night, chillin’ on a shelf in a backroom at Doheny.

My first thought was, well, this thing is really in disrepair. And my second thought was, what is it doing here in this section of the USC library?

What indeed. I had to find out. Little did I know then that pulling on this thread would unravel a story involving death, deception, and anonymous millionaires bidding at private auctions. My first lead was Meredith Wold.

I am the webmaster and owner of I’ve run that for 13 years. I call myself a Clark Gable historian.

[Archival audio:

Presenter: Mr. Gable, on behalf of the 20 million fans, I present to you this kingly crown.

Gable: Thank you Ed...]

I asked Wold about Gable’s oscar and she told me a story about Richard Lang, the son of friends of Gable and wife Carole Lombard’s. One day, the couple agreed to babysit him...

Richard wanted to be an actor and he picked up the Oscar and he was like, “I’m going to have one of these of my own one day,” and Clark goes, “You know what? You can have it.”

The movement of that oscar around Hollywood for the next 70 years is well documented — back to Gable’s son after Gable died, later sold to Christie’s, auctioned to Steven Spielberg in ‘96, donated back to the academy, and soon to be on display at the academy museum. But never, it seems, at USC. So … what did my uncle see?

Somebody had told me that there was a copy of it floating around somewhere, that there were actually two, but I’d never had that substantiated.

A copy Oscar? The story was growing more implausible the more I researched. I knew only one man might have the full account, so I went back to the scene of the crime to ask him about it.

My name is Steve Hanson, I’m head of the USC cinematic arts library.

In Hanson’s story, little Richard Lang was using Gable’s Oscar as little more than a punching bag.

When it came time for his mother to come to pick him up, he had his little train engine in one hand, and he wanted to take the Oscar with him. He kept calling it his target, I don’t think he knew what it was. Gable gave it to him, and he then applied for another one through the academy.

Gable’s second wife eventually donated the copy to USC when the original was returned. But does anyone know where the copy lives now?

Oh yeah! It’s actually on display in Dean Daley’s office over in the school of cinematic arts.

[Archival audio: 1935 Oscars opening ceremony music.]

And there you have it. A tale of two Oscars, each in safe hands.