Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Harold John Russell (b. January 14, 1914 at Sydney, Nova Scotia, d. January 29, 2002 at Needham, Massachusetts) was a Canadian-American World War II veteran who became one of only two non-professional actors to win an Academy Award for acting.
While on a training mission in 1944, some dynamite used for the mission exploded in his hands. As a result, he lost both hands and was given two hooks to serve as hands. During his recovery, a film called Diary of a Sergeant was made featuring Russell.
When film director William Wyler saw the film on Russell, he cast him in the film The Best Years of Our Lives starring Fredric March and Myrna Loy. Russell played the role of Homer Parrish, a soldier who lost both hands during the War.
For his role as Parrish, Russell won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1947. He was also awarded an honorary Oscar for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans." It was the only time the Academy awarded two Oscars for the same role.
Upon completion of the film, Wyler told Russell to return to school since there "weren't many roles for actors without hands." Russell later graduated from Boston University.
Russell became active in AMVETS , serving three terms as National Commander. As such, he wrote to President Truman in 1951, supporting his decision to dismiss General MacArthur. In his letter, Russell wrote: "The issue is whether the ultimate civil authority of the United States can tolerate actions in contempt of constitutional lines of authority. Any lessening of civil power over military power must inevitably lead away from democracy."
In 1992, Russell needed money for his wife's medical expenses. In a controversial decision, he sold his Oscar to a private collector for $60,500. Russell defended his action, saying: "I don't know why anybody would be critical. My wife's health is much more important than sentimental reasons. The movie will be here, even if Oscar isn't." The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences now requires all Oscar receipients to sign an agreement forbidding them from selling their award.
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