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Story behind the statues

With the annual Olympia Film Society Oscar Party looming, Kathryn Ashe comes clean

Pose with a real Oscar Sunday night at the Capitol Theater.

There's plenty of speculation, but who'll be left holding the Oscars in Hollywood on Sunday night is still a mystery.

In Olympia, though, anyone who attends the Olympia Film Society's Oscar Party can lay hands on - and be photographed with - a real Oscar.

Hosted by pianist-actor-director-composer Josh Anderson, the party will feature a trivia casting couch, a raffle, prizes for the person who picks the most Oscar winners and even a red carpet in front of the theater.

"Those who get dressed up may get stopped on the red-carpet walk by Josh," says theater manager Audrey Henley. "We project the red-carpet action onto the big screen, so fashionistas and fancy dressers will get a little fame before they walk into the party."

But for the night's most exciting prop, the Oscars get the nod.

"People don't believe that the Oscars are real Oscars," Henley says. "When I tell them it's not a prop or something that we picked up at the party rental store, they get really excited. There's where the big smile comes from when they get their picture taken with it. Imagine holding a REAL Oscar statue. Now, imagine that you actually won it!"

The Oscars made their first Capitol Theater appearance in 2005, but the story behind the statuettes has remained untold ... until this year. Their owner, Kathryn Ashe of Olympia, has stepped out from behind the curtain.

Ashe's grandfather was Arthur Freed, who won Best Picture Oscars for producing An American in Paris (1952) and Gigi (1959). Freed's career was a very big deal, spanning decades of Hollywood history.

As a young man Freed performed with the Marx Brothers on the vaudeville circuit and later became a songwriter for MGM. His first job as producer was on what is maybe the best-known film ever made: The Wizard of Oz.

"He was associate producer, but he never got credit," Ashe says. "He actually did most of the work."

His work on the film lead MGM to put him in charge of his own unit, where he helped make the studio famous for its musicals.

"Grandfather was a big promoter of Judy Garland," Ashe says. "He thought she had a great deal of promise. The studio never knew what to do with her because she was sort of quirky looking, and she didn't fit the mold."

Freed went on to produce about 40 musicals, including Singin' in the Rain - he wrote the title song himself. In fact, before his production career, he wrote the lyrics for numerous ballads that are still performed today.

In addition to the two Oscars, Freed also won an Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award and an honorary award for service to the Academy, including producing six top-rated Oscar telecasts, and in 1972 he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

To Ashe, who grew up around the Oscars statuettes, the awards are no big deal.

"He also got the Donatello award," she says. "That's the Italian version of the Oscar. It's a reproduction of Donatello's David, and it's much classier-looking than the Oscar.

"What they do not tell you about the Oscar is that the so-called gold coating pits," she says. "They used to cost about $200 to get replated, and now it's up to $400 or $500, and I'm just not going to spend the money on it."

Ashe and her Oscars moved to Olympia in 1997 in search, she says, of civilization.

"Los Angeles in the '50s was actually a wonderful place to grow up," she says. "Today, Los Angeles and the state of California are one large obscenity. It's an insane asylum, and as a fourth- or fifth-generation Californian, I'm entitled to say that."

While she's been avoiding the limelight in recent years, Ashe worked in film in the '60s, dancing and doing bit parts. And like her grandfather, she has a connection to one of the most popular movie musicals ever.

"I'm in one of the opening sequences of The Sound of Music," she says of the 1965 Julie Andrews favorite. "After Julie's big opening number, they switch to the convent. I'm the one walking straight into the camera with the credits over me."

Olympia Film Society's Oscar Party

Sunday, Feb. 27, 4:30 p.m., Academy Awards broadcast 5 p.m., $6
Capitol Theater, 206 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia
360.754.6670, olympiafilmsociety.org, brownpapertickets.com

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