ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Imagine learning that a quiet, humble family member was keeping a secret: that he was an Academy Award winner.
That’s what happened to members the Gramkee family, who spent 30 years trying to verify a family legend that the late Kodak chemist Bruce Gramkee won an Oscar.
A recent Instagram post from the George Eastman Museum finally led the family to the right people at Kodak.
It turns out Gramkee patented non-flammable film, which dramatically changed the film industry and won Kodak the Academy Award in 1949.
But he rarely shared anything about his achievement with his family.
“He never spoke about anything that he did or made,” said Bruce’s son, John Gramkee. “He’d say, ‘Oh, yeah, I have a patent.’ You never knew what.”
This week, Kodak allowed multiple generations of the family to see the Oscar for the first time.
Ann Mangan, the wife of Bruce’s grandson, led much of the family research into the Oscar. She believes non-flammable film saved the movie industry by making moviegoers feel safer.
“If this hadn't happened, movie houses would still be burning down and I’m thinking it wouldn't be as big of an industry as it is now,” said Mangan. “There’d still be movies and movie stars, but if you were afraid to go to the movies in the first place?”
Gramkee was responsible for several Kodak film patents. This year’s Academy Awards featured 29 nominations for movies shot on Kodak film.