Did You Know? History of the Academy Awards

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The  84th anniversary Academy Awards Show will air on February 26. It is televised  in 200 countries. The idea for an awards show was originally conceived by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio boss Louis B. Mayer as a professional honorary organization to help improve the film industry’s image and help mediate labor disputes. The Oscar itself was later initiated by the Academy as an award "of merit for distinctive achievement" in the industry.

Winners had been announced three months earlier of their triumphs; however that was changed in the second ceremony of the Academy Awards in 1930. Since then and during the first decade, the results were given to newspapers for publication at 11 p.m. on the night of the awards. This method was used until the Los Angeles Times announced the winners before the ceremony began; as a result, the Academy has used a sealed envelope to reveal the name of the winners since 1941.

The first Best Actor was awarded to the German actor Emil Jannings, for his performances in The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh. He had to return to Europe before the ceremony, so the Academy agreed to give him the prize earlier. The honored professionals were awarded for all the work done in a certain category for the qualifying period.

Since the fourth ceremony, the system changed, and the professionals were honored for a specific performance in a single film.

A total of 2,809 Oscars have been given for 1,853 awards. A total of 302 actors have won Oscars in competitive acting categories or been awarded Honorary or Juvenile Awards.

The 1939 film, Beau Geste, is the only movie that features as many as four Academy Award winners for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Susan Hayward, Broderick Crawford) prior to any of the actors receiving the Best Actor Award.

At the 29th ceremony, held on March 27, 1957, the Best Foreign Language Film category was introduced. Until then, foreign language films were honored with the Special Achievement Award.

MGM's art director Cedric Gibbons, one of the original Academy members, supervised the design of the award trophy by printing the design on a scroll. In need of a model for his statuette, Gibbons was introduced by his then wife Dolores del Río to Mexican film director and actor Emilio "El Indio" Fernández. Reluctant at first, Fernández was finally convinced to pose nude to create what today is known as the "Oscar". Then, sculptor George Stanley (who also did the Muse Fountain at the Hollywood Bowl) sculpted Gibbons's design in clay and Sachin Smith cast the statuette in 92.5 percent tin and 7.5 percent copper and then gold-plated it. The only addition to the Oscar since it was created is a minor streamlining of the base.

The original Oscar mold was cast in 1928 at the C.W. Shumway & Sons Foundry in Batavia, Illinois, which also contributed to casting the molds for the Vince Lombardi Trophy and Emmy Awards statuettes. Since 1983, approximately 50 Oscars are made each year in Chicago by Illinois manufacturer R.S. Owens & Company.

In support of the American effort in World War II, the statuettes were made of plaster and were traded in for gold ones after the war had ended.

The root of the name Oscar is contested. One biography of Bette Davis claims that she named the Oscar after her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson. One of the earliest mentions in print of the term Oscar dates back to a Time magazine article about the 1934 Academy Awards.

Walt Disney is also quoted as thanking the Academy for his Oscar as early as 1932.

Another claimed origin is that the Academy's Executive Secretary, Margaret Herrick, first saw the award in 1931 and made reference to the statuette's reminding her of her "Uncle Oscar" (a nickname for her cousin Oscar Pierce). Columnist Sidney Skolsky was present during Herrick's naming and seized the name in his byline, "Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette 'Oscar.'"

The trophy was officially dubbed the "Oscar" in 1939 by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Another legend reports that the Norwegian-American Eleanor Lilleberg, executive secretary to Louis B. Mayer, saw the first statuette and exclaimed, "It looks like King Oscar II!".
           

The title for the most "Best Actor." awards, though, is shared by seven different actors (Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Fredric March, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Hanks) who each won two Oscars.

The actor with the most total Oscar nominations is Jack Nicholson, who was nominated 12 times (winning three times - twice for Best Actor and once for Best Supporting Actor).

Meryl Streep now holds the record for the most total Oscar nominations, with 16 nominations (passing Katharine Hepburn, who has 12, in 2003. Walt Disney received 64 Oscar nominations.

The longest acceptance speech ever given at an Academy Awards ceremony was given by Greer Garson, when she accepted her award for Best Actress in 1942's Mrs. Miniver. It's uncertain exactly how long she spoke - most sources agree it was somewhere between 5 1/2 and 7 minutes.

The Oscar statuette weighs 6 3/4 pounds, and stands 13 1/2 inches high.

Since 1950, the statuettes have been legally encumbered by the requirement that neither winners nor their heirs may sell the statuettes without first offering to sell them back to the Academy for US $1. If a winner refuses to agree to this stipulation, then the Academy keeps the statuette. Academy Awards not protected by this agreement have been sold in public auctions and private deals for six-figure sums. In December 2011, Orson Welles' 1941 Oscar for Citizen Kane has been placed up for auction, after his heirs won a 2004 court decision that Welles did not sign any agreement to return the statue to the Academy.

Visit your local library for these resources:

Secrets of Oscar-winning animation: Behind the scenes of 13 classic short animations
Oliver Cotte, (2007).

The Academy Awards: The Complete History of Oscar
Gail Kinn, and , Jim Piazza (2002).

All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards

 

Online resources:

Wanna see an Academy Awards invite? We got it along with all the major annual events surrounding the Oscars
Lauren Brokaw, The Daily Truffle (2010).

 

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