Harold Russell was the disabled World War II veteran who received two Academy Awards for his role in "The Best Years of Our Lives."
"The Best Years of Our Lives" was the runaway hit of the 1946 Academy Awards. The film, which dealt with the harsh realities of servicemen adjusting to changed families and a changing country after years of warfare, won seven Academy Awards and a special Oscar, including those for best picture, best director for William Wyler and best actor for Frederic March. It also won for best screenplay, music and editing.
Russell's two Oscars, one for best supporting actor and a special award from the academy governors, made him the only person in academy history to win two awards for the same role. Years later, he made headlines again when he decided to sell one of his statuettes.
He joined the Army the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor and was trained as a paratrooper and an explosives expert. On D-day, Russell was training soldiers at Camp Mackall, N.C., in the use of explosives when a defective fuse ignited a charge of TNT.
His hands were so severely injured that they had to be amputated, and he was fitted with hooks. A short time later, he was cast in his first film, an Army documentary entitled "Diary of a Sergeant," about the rehabilitation of an amputee.
Although Russell had no speaking role, his presence impressed director Wyler, who saw the film some time later, after he had begun early work on "The Best Years of Our Lives." In an early screenplay for that movie, the Russell character had suffered severe neurological damage causing spastic paralysis. But the movie makers thought the character too difficult for audiences to accept.
Wyler remembered Russell from the training film, and the part of Homer Parrish was rewritten to reflect his disability.
Russell made headlines in 1992 when he decided to sell his Oscar for best supporting actor.
The academy offered Russell $20,000 not to sell his award, but he held out and eventually sold it for more than $60,000 to an anonymous bidder.
"I'd never sell the special one," he said. "The war was over, and this was the industry's way of saying thank you to the veterans."
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