To Give the Maker His Due, They'd Have to Call Oscar An Owen

updated 04/04/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/04/1988 01:00AM

Owen Siegel is not a big movie buff. "The last good movie I saw? That Don Ameche picture," he says. "You know...Cocoon." But he can't wait to watch the Oscars on TV April 11. And we do mean watch the Oscars. Not the people who win them, but the 13-inch gold-plated statuettes themselves.

"It's pretty exciting," he says. Weird? No. Without Siegel, no Academy Award night would be complete. He makes the Oscars.

They are made the way they are awarded—one at a time. This is because there is only one mold—the 45-pound steel form that has been used to cast every Oscar since the first ones were handed out in 1929. Siegel, 68, has had the mold since 1983, when the motion picture academy appointed his Chicago firm, R.S. Owens & Co., to succeed the previous manufacturer.

"It takes about four to five hours and 10 people to make an Oscar," Siegel says. Each statuette starts with 88 ounces of molten pewter, which hardens almost instantly when poured into the mold. (During WW II, when metal was unavailable, Oscars were made from plaster.) Plated in turn with copper, nickel, silver and finally gold, the Oscar is mounted on a brass base—winners' names are engraved after the ceremonies—and cinched in a blue velvet sack.

The son of a Chicago bird-equipment dealer, Siegel founded R.S. Owens 50 years ago, after breaking into the business selling trophies to fairs and livestock shows. He makes 40,000 trophies a year these days, mostly for bowling, but also for the Emmys, the Clios and the MTV awards.

Siegel also repairs Oscars that lose their luster. "Some people use harsh cleaners that actually dissolve the protective lacquer," he says, shaking his head. So stars, please, when you get Oscar home, take good care of him. It will make Oscar's poppa happy.

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