KU's Murphy Hall houses Oscar treasure

Go ahead — ask Kathy Pryor about Oscar.

In addition to her duties as managing director and budget officer of theater at Kansas University, Pryor also serves as a caretaker of sorts for a 53-year-old Academy Award statuette that once belonged to playwright, novelist and KU alumnus William Inge.

photo

Actor, screenwriter and Kansas University alumnus William Inge received this Oscar for best original screenplay for "Splendor in the Grass" in 1961. The Oscar is stored in a safe place in Murphy Hall and is brought out several times a year.

Listening to Pryor talk about the 13 1/2-inch-tall, 8 1/2-pound trophy is almost like hearing her reminisce about an old friend. It’s not long into a conversation before she refers to the Oscar — Inge won in the best original screenplay category for 1961’s “Splendor in the Grass” — as “him.”

“I have made him very personal,” she says. “I think because I’ve been here so long, I’ve formed a real attachment to the Oscar and the history.”

Looking after the award has been her “thing” for a long time now. Pryor joined the theater department as a part-time secretary in 1978, five years after Inge’s family gifted the theater department with his Academy Award.

The Independence native committed suicide in 1973 following a decades-long struggle with depression. He was 60 years old.

Inge’s Oscar, perhaps the last symbol of his critical success, has remained at KU’s Murphy Hall ever since.

KU theater department staffers keep it locked away somewhere inside the building, though Pryor doesn’t like to reveal the location. Displaying it permanently would pose security issues, she says.

“There’s no way to replace it,” Pryor says of the golden statuette, which enjoyed a refurbishing from the Academy 15 years ago. “It’s priceless.”

Still, “a couple times a year” on very special occasions, the Oscar comes out of hiding.

Most recently, he made an appearance Wednesday night at a reception for KU Theatre’s upcoming “A Raisin in the Sun,” where he posed in pictures with students, faculty and staff, and theater patrons.

Watching students interact with Inge’s Oscar is the most fun, Pryor says.

With a “light in their eyes,” the aspiring thespians hold “him” as if they had just won their own Academy Award, expressing their gratitude to the parents and teachers who made it happen.

“It serves as an inspiration, I think, to see someone from the Midwest who went through KU and did such important work,” Pryor says of Inge’s award. “I think that’s vital to students.”

This year's Academy Awards ceremony will be held at 6 p.m. today and will be broadcast live on ABC.

Comments

David Holroyd 2 years, 8 months ago

It should be noted that his sister, Helene, had roomed with Hazel Lee Simmons who was a principal at Cordley. Helene, taught art in the junior high in Lawrence.

Having been acquainted with her and had visited her in the Hollywood Hills, she went there to live with her brother William after her divorce. She was a most kind lady and she and her brother Bill were very close. His suicide at his home was a tradedy for her.

He at one time had considered living in Lawrence and was going to acquire the stone barn just north of 9th street toward Iowa. It is a now a house. I recall the time he spoke with us in the theatre dept and was most engaging.

I believe his house on Oriole drive is now torn down or so it seemed when I was last in LA.

While at KU he was in the Sigma Nu fraternity and Buddy Rogers who married Mary Pickford was a Phi Si. Just another tidbit as I recall, Vivian Vance who played Ethel was a student of Inge's as she was from Kansas as well.

Helene was just "great". You couldn't have had a nicer person and she was always supportive of her brother.

Every year there is an Inge Festival in Indepence , Kansas his hometown.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.