CMH Home
CMH Home
CMH News and Features
U.S. Army Center of Military History

The Army's First
Academy Award

Frank Capra's "Prelude To War"

In 1943 at the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, California, the United States Army won its first Oscar for Prelude to War, as Best Documentary. The film was produced by the well-known Hollywood director and producer, Frank Capra (It's a Wonderful Life). Capra was commissioned as a major in the Army Signal Corps, agreeing to produce a series of orientation films, "Why We Fight," for new soldiers. Prelude to War was the first in this series. The film was released to the public to help them understand the war.

The Oscar originally presented to the Army was plaster instead of the metal due to war rationing. The Academy presented the Army with the traditional statue after the war, which was subsequently stored in the Army's Pictorial Center located in Astoria, New York. When the center closed In the 1970s, it was discovered the Oscar was missing. The Oscar turned up in 2008 at a Christie's auction. Christie's contacted the Academy resulting in the return of the Oscar during a special ceremony. The Oscar is currently on display at the Pentagon.

U.S. Army 1943 Oscar Award for Maj. Frank Capra's 1942 documentary

The U.S. Army was awarded this Oscar in 1943 for Maj. Frank Capra's 1942 documentary, "Prelude to War", the first film in the U.S. Army Special Services' seven-picture "Why We Fight" series.




More Army awards:

Seed of Destiny

U.S. Army Signal Corps cherishes Oscar award

Some of Hollywood's greats during the 1940s had another job - rallying the support of Americans during and after World War II and making training films for the troops.

Frank Capra, who directed the film, It's a Wonderful Life; Darryl Zanuck, who served as head of Twentieth Century Fox; and Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss; were all part of the Signal Corps. The 834th Signal Service Photographic Detachment was headquartered in Astoria, N.Y. at the Signal Corps Photographic Center.

Two Academy Awards won by Signaleers are at the Signal Corps Museum; a third is in Washington, D.C.

Two post-war documentaries were awarded the golden statuette in 1946 and 1948. Seeds of Destiny won in 1946, and Toward Independence won in 1948.

"It's basically trying to let people know about the Marshall plan," said Robert Anzuoni, museum director. The original Seeds of Destiny film is in a display case in the museum with its Oscar. The film is gripping, he said.

It shows poverty-stricken children in the fallen European countries with the message that if Americans don't help rebuild, the climate will be ripe for fascism and other dictatorships to rise possibly causing another war, he said.

Anzuoni said it's a timely message in light of today's war. Seeds of Destiny was designed to cause Americans to back the plan.

Toward Independence was a 1948 film highlighting medical care for Soldiers after World War II.

A third Oscar recently found its way back to the Signal Corps. Frank Capra's 1942 Prelude To War was originally designed as a training film and was part of the Why We Fight Series. In 1942, it received an Oscar as best documentary, but the award wasn't the familiar statuette but a plaque. After the war, the Army received an Oscar, but the original one vanished.

According to an Associated Press news story, the auction house, Christie's, announced a sale of an Oscar. It was the missing statuette. The award was returned to the Army in September after a Hollywood screening of the film Prelude to War.