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There's an Oscar in Albany

There's an Oscar in Albany

Albany native Edwin J. Burke’s Oscar has been a part of this institute’s collection for decades
There's an Oscar in Albany
Edwin J. Burke and the Oscar that he won for "Bad Girl."
Photographer: courtesy albany institute of history and art

The Albany Institute of History and Art is home to standout portraits, landscapes from the Hudson River school, historical fashions and, surprisingly, an Oscar.

Albany native Edwin J. Burke’s Oscar has been a part of the Institute’s collection for decades. The bronze statuette is in good condition, especially considering its 87 years old. 

Burke was given the award for best writing adapted screenplay in 1932 for his work on “Bad Girl.” Adapted from Vina Delmar’s book, the film is part melodrama, part comedy, exploring gender roles and the cultural landscape of the United States during the Great Depression. 

It follows the frank working-class model Dorothy Haley, played by Sally Eilders, and her love interest, Eddy Collins, played by James Dunn. Their marriage gets off to a difficult start, as Collins believes that he alone should work. Then, Haley gets pregnant and Eddy loses his steady job, he resorts to prizefighting to support his family and uphold his beliefs. The film also won an Oscar for best director, which was given to Frank Borzage. 

“Bad Girl” was just one of Burke’s many screenplays. Born in 1889, Edwin attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City for two years before starting his career in theater and film. 

During the Roaring Twenties, he wrote hundreds of one-act plays, along with a few full-length plays. In 1928, “This Thing Called Love,” one of his first full-length plays, ran on Broadway and was later adapted for film. While the play was still running on Broadway, he moved to Hollywood to start writing screenplays for the Fox Film Corporation. 

Burke became well-known for his work on several Shirley Temple films as well as “Sob Slaters,” “Happy Days,” “Paddy, the Next Best Thing” and others. 

After six years in Hollywood, he moved back east, settling in High Bridge, New Jersey, in 1935, according to his obituary. However, he remained a part of the acting world, as the director of the Percy Williams Home for Actors and as a member of The Lambs, one of the oldest professional theatrical clubs in America.

According to Lewis Hardee, the former librarian of The Lambs, Burke was an important member of the group until he died in 1944 at the age of 55. 

“As you can tell, he was a much-admired member of The Lambs. In our long history, he is one of only 22 honored as an Immortal Lamb, of a cumulative membership of 6,000,” Hardee wrote in a letter in 2005. 

Burke’s Oscar was bequeathed to the Institute in 1979 by his niece, Grace Baxter. It’s been taken out of storage for exhibitions and events, but most of the time it stays in the climate controlled storage, next to other noteworthy awards and artifacts. 

For those who are curious about Burke’s film,“Bad Girl,” is available to stream on Amazon, YouTube, iTunes and other streaming services.

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