With the release of the Oscar® nominations today I thought it might be interesting to find out something about the history of the Academy Awards®. So off I went to Wikipedia and the official Academy Awards® site to find out more.
The first Academy Awards® was held on the 16th May 1929, there were 15 awards vs. 25 today - assumedly the ceremony was considerably shorter. The awards were issued for all the work done in a category by an individual in a certain time period and the first winners were notified of their achievements three months before the ceremony! This was changed for the second year of the awards and between 1932 and 1940 the winners names were released to newspapers for publication at 11pm on the night of the ceremony. The Academy has kept the names of the winners’ secret until their announcement at the opening of a sealed envelope since 1941, this was because the previous year The Los Angeles Times had rather mischievously released a list of winners before the ceremony had even begun!
The Academy Award® of Merit, or as we know it the Oscar®, was modelled on Mexican film director and actor Emilio “El Indio” Fernández who had to be persuaded to model for the statuette. The statuette depicts a knight holding a sword and standing on a reel of film with five spokes, each spoke representing an original branch of the Academy: Actors, Writers, Directors, Producers, and Technicians. The statuette is cast in tin and copper and then plated in nickel tin and finally plated with real gold. During WWII the statuette was made in painted plaster (due to metal shortages), but those recipients did not miss out and were able to exchange their Oscars® for the real McCoy after the war ended.
The source of the name “Oscar” is unclear – one story states that an Academy employee saw the Oscar® statuette in 1931 and said that it looked like her “Uncle Oscar”, another story is that Bette Davis, named her award after her husband Harmon Oscar Nelson saying that her statuette’s bottom looked like her husband’s. My favourite story is that a Norwegian-American employee saw the first statuette and exclaimed “It looks like King Oscar II!” and at the end of the day she asked, “What should we do with Oscar, put him in the vault?” and so the name Oscar® stuck.
Since 1950 the Academy has specified that winners and their heirs are not able to sell their statuette without first offering it to the Academy for $1. If a winner refuses to this stipulation their Oscar® is kept by the Academy. Oscars® from prior to 1950 have sold for large sums at auction and in 1999 Michael Jackson bid $1.54m – more than £1m – to own the Best Film Oscar® awarded to producer David O Selznick for Gone With The Wind. Steven Spielberg purchased Bette Davis’s Oscars® for Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938) when they were offered for auction (for $207,500 and $578,000) and returned them to the Academy.
A total of 2,789 Oscars® have been awarded since 1929 and I for one have got my fingers crossed that The King’s Speech will receive some of this year’s 25 Oscars®!
Note: Oscar® and Academy Awards® are the trademarks of, and the Oscar© statuette is the copyrighted property, of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This site is neither endorsed by nor affiliated with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.