Shortly after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was organized in 1927, a dinner was held in the Crystal Ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. At this dinner they discussed ways to honor outstanding achievements to encourage higher levels of quality in all areas of motion picture production.
A major item of the business discussed was the creation of a trophy to recognize achievement in film. MGM art director Cedric Gibbons took the idea to several Los Angeles artists who submitted designs. Los Angeles sculptor George Stanley was selected to create the statuette the figure of a knight standing on a reel of film, hands gripping a sword. The Academy’s world-renowned statuette was born.
Over 2,300 statuettes have been presented since the initial awards banquet on May 16, 1929, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel’s Blossom Room. In 2002, additional new golden statuettes were cast, molded, polished and buffed by R. S. Owens and Company. This Chicago awards specialty company has made the award since 1982.
Initially, Oscar was solid bronze. Then, due to a shortage of metal during World War II, Oscars were made of painted plaster for three years. Today, the statuette is gold-plated britannium, a pewter-like alloy. He stands 131/2 inches tall and weighs a robust 8-1/2 pounds. He hasn’t been changed since he was first created, except when the pedestal was made higher in 1945.
Officially named the Academy Award of Merit, the statuette is better known by a nickname, Oscar, the origins of which aren’t clear.
A popular story has been that Margaret Herrick,an Academy librarian and eventual executive director, thought it resembled her Uncle Oscar. After she said so, the Academy staff began calling it Oscar.
By the sixth Awards Presentation in 1934, Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky used the name in his column when he referred to Katharine Hepburn’s first Best Actress win. The Academy didn’t use the nickname officially until 1939.
The Academy won’t know how many statuettes it will actually hand out until the envelopes are opened on Oscar Night. Even though the number of categories and special awards is known prior to the ceremony, the possibility of ties and of multiple winners sharing the prize in some categories, makes the exact number of Oscars to be awarded unpredictable.
The Oscar statuette is one of the most recognized award in the world. Its success as a symbol of achievement in filmmaking would probably amaze its creators, Cedric Gibbons and George Stanley. As a matter of fact, they are so prized that in 2000, only a few weeks before the Academy Awards, the Oscars were stolen while they were being shipped from Chicago. They were recovered a week later, but not before some nerve-wracking days had passed.
The Oscar stands today, as it has since 1929, 13-1/2 inches of acheivement on the mantels of the greatest filmmakers in history.
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