Written by: BlueDog89
One of the brightest stars to appear on the Hollywood scene in 1929 was a golden knight gripping his mighty sword while standing atop a reel of film with five spokes. His greatest role has been to honor outstanding achievements in filmmaking. His name is Oscar®.
For one of the most recognized trophies the world over, the statuette’s dimensions are not nearly as imposing as the overwhelming emotions experienced by the individuals honored by a nomination or receiving the award itself. Oscar® is a mere 13 ½” and weighing 8 ½ lbs., standing regally atop a base of a film reel. The five spokes displayed on the black base represent the original branches of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences®: Actors, Writers, Directors, Producers, and Technicians.
Cedric Gibbons and Dolores del Rio
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s chief art director Cedric Gibbons was responsible for the design of the trophy. Gibbons’ wife, actress Delores del Rio, introduced him to Mexican film director Emilio “El Indio” Fernandez to pose for the original sketches. Sculptor George Stanley, renowned for designing the Muse Fountain at the Hollywood Bowl, sculpted Gibbons’ sketches and Sachin Smith cast the statuette in 92.5% tin and 7.5% copper and then gold-plated it. The only addition to Oscar since its original design was a minor streamlining of the base.
The original award presented at early ceremonies was gold-plated solid bronze. The statuette’s material changed over the years, such as during World War II, when there was a metal shortage, and the Oscars® were made of painted plaster. Once the war was over, wartime recipients were allowed to redeem their plaster figurines for gold-plated metal figures. Today Oscar® is constructed of gold-plated britannium on a black metal base rendered in an Art Deco style.
The Academy® initially named the statuette the Academy Award of Merit®, however Oscar® is what it’s most known for. Many rumors surround how the nickname of Oscar came about. One of the most well known is that of Bette Davis saying that the award resembled her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson. Davis supposedly mentioned the term Oscar® when she received her Best Actress award for Dangerous in 1935. Walt Disney was rumored to use the moniker in 1932, and Time magazine made mention of Oscar® in 1934. The Authorized Version from the Academy® is based on a popular story about an Academy® librarian who remarked that the statuette resembled her Uncle Oscar. The Academy® officially adopted the nickname in 1939. However the name came about, it stuck. And many people today often refer to the award ceremony as The Oscars®.
From left to right: Douglas Fairbanks Sr., D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, and Charles Chaplin, around the time they founded United Artists in 1919
The first Academy Awards®, hosted by actor Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and screenwriter/director from the silent film era William C. DeMille, were presented on May 16, 1929, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and lasted a mere 15 minutes. This was the only Academy Award® ceremony not to be broadcast either on radio or television. This was also the first and only year that the Academy® recognized two best pictures and the only time that winners were recognized for more than one movie. It was also the only time a silent movie reached best picture status.
Wings, Best Picture winner 1927
Films that had been released between August 1, 1927 and July 31, 1928 were eligible for awards. Unlike later ceremonies, awards could be granted to an actor or director for multiple works within a year. The movie Wings, which starred the popular silent film star Clara Bow, won Best Picture, while Emil Jannings won Best Actor for two separate roles and Janet Gaynor won Best Actress for three separate roles. There were two Best Director Awards, Lewis Milestone won for Best Comedy and Frank Borzage won for Best Dramatic Picture.
Two special awards were also presented that night. One to Warner Brothers for producing The Jazz Singer and one to Charlie Chaplin for writing, acting, directing and producing The Circus.
Yet today, no matter what you call the glam evening of a 1,000 stars or the gleaming knight holding a crusader’s sword, it all represents the best in Motion Picture achievement. Only now The Oscars® come complete with bright lights, designer dresses, and the all-important red carpet.
It may be a little different from what the early founders of the Academy® had in mind; but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
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