I think it's safe to say that we as Cape Bretoners are not Hollywood types. As I walk down Charlotte Street on my way to work, past the parade of flannel and baseball caps, "glamorous" just isn't the word that comes to mind. Combined with a near obsessive compulsion to be ever-humble, the limelight does little more to a Cape Bretoner than make us uncomfortably warm.
Also, at some point in history, humanity banded together and decided actors and musicians were the professions most worthy of our attention, relegating the important jobs of mining and fishing to the cultural afterthought of "I'm sure glad they exist!"
Yet even with our penchant for humility and professional obscurity, a select few of us have found ways to make lasting impacts far beyond the shores of our little island. Whether it was for battling a smallpox epidemic or fighting Germans in European trenches, the following Cape Bretoners went above and beyond their duty as mere humans, and became...
Episode 1: The Man who Replaced his Hands with Oscars
Harold Russell won two more Oscars than Leonardo DiCaprio, was one of only two non-professional actors to win an Academy Award, and is the only person to ever win two Oscars for the same role. Also, Harold had no hands.
Yeah, actually it was a bit more impressive than that.
Even though Harold Russell was born in North Sydney in 1914, it's surprising to me he isn't a household name around our island. A big reason for that is, like me, he moved to America at a young age, and it was in America that Captain Russell earned his unexpected fame and accolades, but let's not hold that against him.
At the ripe ole age of 7, Harold and his family moved to Massachusetts after his father's death, where Harold took to being American like the English take to drinking tea. It was this fervent sense of national pride that led Harold to an Army recruitment office the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately for him (but fortunately for us), Harold never saw the Pacific front.
As an Army instructor in North Carolina, Sergeant Russell was filming a training video in which he had to handle explosives. During the filming, two mistakes were made. 1. The explosive was needlessly and dangerously live, and 2. the fuse on the live explosive was defective. Said explosive ever-so-rudely blew both Harold's hands clean off. Records regarding the incident are sparse, but the Army did conclude that the experience hurt really, really bad. Sergeant Russell was given two hooks and scratched fighting the Japanese off his bucketlist.
He would have made an incredibly charismatic pirate, don't you think?
Still holding the raw magnetism to be in front of the camera (without the ability to hold much else), Harold was cast in The Best Years of Our Lives, and played a Navy sailor who lost both hands during the war. A role Russell didn't really need to reach too terribly far for.
Now, the more astute readers amongst you might be thinking "Rory! It's theoretically impossible to win two Oscars for the same role!" And you would be 100% right. Good job! Giving Mr. Russell two Academy Awards was actually a huge, pretentious mistake (marking the first and last time Hollywood was ever pretentious).
The Academy, thinking Russell had little chance of winning an Oscar against "real, professional actors," gave him an Honorary Award for his service to his fellow veterans. This was about an hour before Harold won an actual Best Supporting Actor for his role, and made the Academy look silly. Knowing that taking an honorary Oscar away from a handless veteran was a PR nightmare waiting to happen, The Academy let Russell keep both, making it the only time in Oscar history any person was awarded two Oscars for the same performance.
Proof that Harold Russell enjoyed winning Oscars and making Hollywood types look dumb at the same time.
Harold Russell walked away from acting after winning twice as many Oscars as Al Pacino, because there "weren't many roles for actors without hands." This remains the most sensible acting career decision in Hollywood history.
I would like to think Harold made custom mounts to attach his awards to his wrists, and called himself "Johnny Oscarhands," but in reality he spent the rest of his life fighting for handicapped rights and writing to Presidents.
Harold Russell is unique as the only Cape Bretoner to ever win an Oscar, not to mention the only person in history to win 2 for the same role. And as a fellow Caper, I'm proud he did it in the weirdest way possible.
Next Episode: The Man who Enjoyed World War 1 a bit too much....