REWIND: 10 or 20 or 25 Things You Might Not Know About Oscar

- February 11th, 2013

UPDATE: It’s now less than two weeks until the 85th Academy Awards are presented on the evening of Sunday, Feb. 24, and the excitement level is just two notches below hysteria.

We can’t even remember the name of the French guy who won Best Actor last year and I defy anyone to tell me right now who won Best Sound Mixing or Best Visual Effects — but we still love the Oscars and get pumped like sugar junkies   as the big show draws closer every year.

(Except for 2006 and 2008, of course, when niche TV guy Jon Stewart was the host, no big hits were in contention and almost nobody watched the entire show on TV. Really. The 2006 Academy Awards were so bad that the year’s Best Original Song — keeping company with such august winners as Over The Rainbow, Moon River, The Way We Were and My Heart Will Go On  — was It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp. Really.)

But still we love the Academy Awards. Though Oscar’s a rounder and a bounder, he’ll always own a big chunk of our hearts. So we gibber and prattle as we  jitter excitedly on to the big night. We can only hope this year’s new host, Seth MacFarlane, doesn’t spend the whole night doing Stewie impressions and that the big news isn’t Argo (okay but meh) beating Lincoln (boring) in the Best Picture category.

In keeping with the Hollywood tradition of stealing themes, ideas and creative efforts from previous times and other places, I’m going to recycle a Nosey Parker blog post about the Oscars that I did last February, just prior to the 84th Academy Awards.

I’ll do a bit of updating here and there to keep things current and I’ll add some new tidbits of interesting Oscar information at the end. All in all, the piece was a pretty good read in 2012 and it’s just as good today. If Oscar can keep going back to the same well year after year, why can’t I?

By the way, when I refer to the year of a particular Academy Awards ceremony, I’m talking about the year the actual event took place. For example, I call the 84th Academy Awards (which took place on Feb. 26, 2012) “the 2012 Oscars.” Some idiots who shall remain nameless would call the ceremony taking place Feb. 24, 2013, “the 2012 Oscars” because the awards are being presented for work done in films released in the U.S. in the year 2012. Seems needlessly confusing to me — as in, “the 2012 Academy Awards that took place in 2013″ or “the 2013 telecast of the 2012 Oscars.”

  

Oscars

Everyone knows (more or less) the legend of how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award statuette got the name “Oscar,” but I’ll recap anyway.

 

When the Academy’s volunteer librarian, Margaret Buck Gledhill (later Herrick and later executive director of the Academy), first saw the statuette in 1931, she supposedly said: “Why, he looks just like my Uncle Oscar.”

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(In some tellings of the story, it’s “my husband Oscar” but Margaret’s husband at the time was named Donald. Since  the awards aren’t nicknamed “The Donalds” we can safely assume “Uncle Oscar” gets the nod. And “Uncle Oscar” was actually her older cousin, Oscar Pierce.)

 

“Oscar” first made it into a newspaper account in 1934 (although Walt Disney was said to have used the nomenclature while accepting an award in 1932) and the Academy  officially adopted the nickname in 1939.

 

Now I’m going to tell you a few more arcane facts about Oscar which you probably don’t know. I find this stuff interesting. Hopefully you will too.

 

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1. The Oscar statuette is a stylized Art Deco representation of a knight holding a crusader sword and standing on a film reel. Oscar’s official name is the Academy Award of Merit, one of nine different awards the Academy hands out.

 

The Oscar was designed in 1928 (the year before the first awards ceremony) by Cedric Gibbons, longtime supervising art director for MGM. It was basically an assignment from Gibbons’ boss, MGM czar Louis B. Mayer, the driving force behind the creation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But Gibbons was also one of 36 founding members of the Academy and had an ego the size of, well, Hollywood, so it probably wasn’t all Mayer’s pushing.

CedricGibbons-Oscar

It’s not surprising that Oscar’s style is Art Deco — Gibbons was one of the leading American proponents of Deco and popularized the style through the opulent look of MGM’s films in the ’20s and ’30s.

 

Young California sculptor George Stanley, fresh out of art school, turned Gibbons’ design into a clay model from which casts were made to create the first metal sculptures of solid bronze plated with gold.

 

Gibbons, by the way, wasn’t nominated the first year of the Academy Awards but won the second year for The Bridge of San Luis Rey. He went on to win 10 more Oscars for art direction before his retirement in 1956, second only to Walt Disney’s 26 Oscars. He won one for his last film, Somebody Up There Like’s Me, at the 1957 awards ceremony but he didn’t win for 1939′s The Wizard Of Oz; that Oscar went to Gone With The Wind’s Lyle Wheeler. He was nominated 28 other times — often for multiple films in a single year — and received a special Oscar in 1950 for “consistent excellence” (as if he really needed that).

 

 

2. Because of multiple recipients and ties, 2,809 actual Oscar statuettes have been handed out for 1,853 category wins and honourary presentations since the award was introduced in 1929.

UPDATE: By my count, 45 statues were handed out at the 2012 awards ceremony, including three sci-tech Oscars  at a separate ceremony and four honourary Oscars, so the grand total now seems to be 2,854 statues — not counting duplicates given (sold, actually) to winners whose originals had been lost, stolen or consumed by California’s ever-present forest fires.

 

Here’s a link to the official Academy website and its list of 2012 nominees.

UPDATE: And here’s a link to the official Academy website and its list of 2013 nominees.

 

 

 

3. Only 15 Oscars (12 categories and 3 honourary awards) were presented  the first year of the Academy Awards with World War I aerial combat drama Wings winning “Outstanding Picture, Production” and weeper Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans winning “Unique and Artistic Production.” In future years those two categories were combined into Best Picture. Not only were there two Best Pictures, there were also two Best Director awards (for comedy and drama) — but no Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories that first year.

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One of those first 15 Oscars went to … Title Writing, for those explanatory word panels in silent films. Joseph Farnham won the first — and only — Academy Award for Title Writing and then had a fatal heart attack, thus also becoming the first Academy Award winner to die. Fame is so fleeting.

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The first Academy Awards ceremony on May 16, 1929 was the only Academy Awards to honour (almost) exclusively silent films and the only one to honour title card writing. I say almost exclusively because all the category winners were silent but the partly talkie Jazz Singer got an honourary award for technical innovation.

 

 

4. This year there are 24 Oscar-worthy categories, but  50 statuettes are made each year by Chicago’s R.S. Owens & Company to cover all eventualities. Any figurines that aren’t needed in one particular year are held at the Academy’s office vault for use in later years.

UPDATE: There are 24 categories again in 2013. The Academy’s board of governors can add or subtract categories as they please but have been reluctant to do so in recent years. Categories change names quite a bit, but the last of the current categories to be added was Best Animated Feature at the 2002 presentations (Shrek won).

 

It takes R.S. Owens & Company about a month to produce each year’s crop of new Oscars. R.S. Owens also makes the awards for TV’s Emmys, the advertising industry’s Clios, the Academy of Country Music Awards and the MTV Video Music Awards.

 

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5. Remember that scene in Adam Sandler’s Jack & Jill … no, of course you don’t because NOBODY actually went to see Jack & Jill … even though it has somehow managed to make $75 million. (UPDATE: Probably more by now. I hear Jack & Jill was big in Kazahkstan.)

 

Anyway, pretend you remember the scene in Jack & Jill where Al Pacino (playing himself, sadly) is teaching Adam Sandler (playing Jack pretending to be his twin sister Jill) to play stickball in Pacino’s study. And Sandler hits a line drive that smashes Pacino’s Oscar statuette to smithereens.

 

Couldn’t happen. Why? Because Oscar is solid metal. You might put a dent in one, but you won’t break it.

 

Here’s what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has to say about Oscar’s composition:

 

“The statuettes presented at the initial ceremonies were gold-plated solid bronze. Within a few years the bronze was abandoned in favor of britannia metal, a pewter-like alloy which is then plated in copper, nickel silver, and finally, 24-karat gold. ”

 

Of course, Pacino’s Oscar might have smashed if he had won it in 1943, ’44 or ’45. That’s when Oscars were made of painted plaster due to World War II metal shortages. After the war. the Academy “invited recipients to redeem the plaster figures for gold-plated metal ones.”

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But Pacino got his one and only Oscar in 1993 for 1992′s Scent of a Woman. He had previously been nominated seven times in the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories. The 1993 Oscar was a make-good for Pacino being cheated out of his rightful Best Actor win for the role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II at the 1975 awards ceremony. Who won? Art Carney for Harry and Tonto. Really now. (BTW, Pacino has never again been nominated in any category since that 1993 Best Actor win.)

 

 

 

6. Since the full-metal Oscar was re-introduced in 1946, each individual statuette weighs 3.85 kg (8.5 pounds)  and stands 34 cm tall (13.5 inches). That includes the black base on which the statuette is mounted. The statue itself weighs about  3 kg (6.75 pounds) and stands about 28 cm (11 inches) tall — which is (gasp) almost the same size as a Barbie doll.

barbie-original-ponytail-reproduction

Sooo … somebody had to make the connection. It happened to be John Lasseter, the boss of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Lasseter is said to dress his two Academy Awards in a revolving wardrobe of Barbie clothes. Not Ken clothes. Barbie clothes. Could it be that Buzz Lightyear is a crossdresser in his off-hours?

(Now that I think about it, you can’t fit pants on an Oscar, which is probably why Lasseter chose Barbie’s wardrobe instead of Ken’s.)

Lasseter-Oscar

 

7. Two weeks before the 2000 Academy Awards, all 55 of that year’s Oscars were stolen from a loading dock in Los Angeles. A week later two truck drivers were arrested for the crime (turned in by one thief’s brother).

 

But the Oscars themselves didn’t turn up until dumpster scavenger Willie Fulgear found 52 of the golden statues  in 10 unmarked packing cases behind a laundromat in L.A.’s Koreatown. The shipping firm gave Fulgear the $50,000 posted reward for recovering the Oscars and Willie was finally able to make a downpayment on a small house with his son and move out of his rented room.

 

One of the three missing Oscars was recovered in 2003 in a police drug raid on a Florida mansion, but the other two are still out there somewhere. If you know where to find them, send one to Al Pacino — or to me.

 

 

8. A few winners have turned down Oscars, including George C. Scott, who called the awards ceremony a “meat parade,” and Marlon Brando, who sent Sacheen Littlefeather to read a 15-page speech about why he was rejecting the award for his role as Don Corleone in The Godfather. But Peter O’Toole is, to the best of my knowledge, the only actor to refuse an honourary Oscar.

 

O’Toole explained in a letter to the Academy that he felt himself to be “still in the game” and wanted to “win the lovely bugger outright.”

 

However, he was eventually persuaded by his children to accept the honour and Meryl Streep presented it to him at the 2003 Academy Awards. In 1987, O’Toole had turned down a knighthood for personal and political reasons and no one, not even his children, could get him to reconsider that decision.

UPDATE: On July 10, 2012, O’Toole announced his retirement from acting.

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O’Toole, by the way, is the biggest loser in Academy Award history. He has been nominated eight times (so far) for Best Actor and has won … 0.

 

On the female side, Deborah Kerr is the biggest loser, having been passed over six times in the Best Actress category. If Glenn Close doesn’t win this year for Albert Nobbs, she will have been rejected six times too (but in both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories).

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In a way, the anti-Glenn Close is Meryl Streep, who has 17 nominations (with one more this year) and has picked up two Oscars along the way. A win for The Iron Lady’s Margaret Thatcher role would make it three Oscars for Streep — and really tick off Glenn Close.

UPDATE: Glenn must be really ticked off — Ol’ Meryl won. Once again, it was Close but no cigar.

Meryl-Streep-as-Margaret--007

Even though it may seem like Streep has stolen some of Close’s thunder over the years, that isn’t the case. The only two times Streep and Close went head-to-head, both lost — to Cher for Moonstruck at the 1988 awards (jeesh) and to Jodie Foster for The Accused in 1989. UPDATE: Of course that changed in 2012.

 

 

9. You know who seat-fillers are — the men and women who scuttle down the aisle and take the place of up-front celebrities who leave their seats during the ceremony for a smoke, a drink, a phone call or a visit to the toilet. It looks better for the home TV audience if there aren’t gaps in the auditorium crowd.

 

Seat-fillers for Sunday night’s event at the Kodak Theatre will each be paid a $125 honorarium to keep Jack Nicholson’s and Hilary Swank’s seats warm.

 

It may not seem like much, but keep in mind $125 was what MGM paid each of the supporting Munchkins on The Wizard of Oz for an entire week’s work.

 

 

10. The sealed envelope dates back to 1941.

 

Prior to that, L.A. newspapers were given a list of the winners in advance of the awards ceremony — which didn’t start until 11 p.m. after an elaborate banquet — so they could get papers out on the street by midnight.

 

But on Feb. 29, 1940, the L.A. Times broke the 11 p.m. embargo on the 12th Academy Awards and published the names of most of the winners in an early edition before the banquet began.

 

So everyone arriving at the Coconut Grove that night already knew Gone with the Wind had won Best Picture and would sweep the awards with eight wins; Robert Donat had beaten Clark Gable, Laurence Olivier, James Stewart and Mickey Rooney for Best Actor; and Vivien Leigh would be picking up the Oscar for her portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. There were some very pissed-off stars that night. And some happy ones.

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Thus the sealed and guarded envelopes were introduced for the 1941 awards ceremony and have become a fixture of all subsequent Academy Awards.

 

The first Academy Awards ceremony, which I’ve already written about, was even less of a surprise than the 1940 show. The winners’ names were published three months in advance of the actual awards ceremony, which was a banquet for 270 at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood. A party followed afterwards at the Mayfair Hotel, tickets for which cost $5.

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Because the winners were known in advance, organizers had trouble getting the nominated losers to show up for the event — and studios had to exert pressure on a couple of their sulking stars to make an appearance.

 

As a result, the list of winners was kept more or less a secret until the night of awards from the second shindig in 1930 until the 1940 fiasco which brought about the sealed envelope tradition.

 

 

 

BONUS 1: Jack Nicholson and Michael Caine are the only two actors nominated for an Academy Award for acting (either lead or supporting) in every decade from the 1960s to 2000s. (Perennial loser Peter O’Toole came close but missed a nomination in the 1990s.)

 

BONUS 2: The Godfather Part II is the only sequel ever to have won Best Picture.

UPDATE: Wrong. See comments below re LOTR: The Return Of The King.

 

Bonus 3: Although Oscars are currently awarded in 24 categories, there is a 25th category that could be activated — Best Original Musical. The last time it was awarded (under a different name) was in 1984, when Purple Rain beat The Muppets Take Manhattan and Songwriter. There just don’t seem to be enough legitimate contenders for the category anymore and it will probably be retired eventually, just as Best Title Writing has been retired.

 

UPDATE: Here are some new squibbles of Oscar info.

Bonus 4: From 1934 to 1960, the Academy presented an occasional special Oscar in the juvenile acting category for thespians under the age of 18 who kept getting their butts kicked by adults in the “real” acting categories. Child stars were, after all, a big deal for the studios in the 1930s and ’40s so the little whelps needed to be coddled a bit — and so did their legions of icky fans. The juvenile Oscar was half the size of the grownup Oscar. The first of 12 recipients was six-year-old Shirley Temple (with Little Miss Marker, Baby Take a Bow and Bright Eyes already hits)who received her Oscarette at the 1935 awards ceremony. The last was Haley Mills (Pollyanna) in 1961. Judy Garland was given a juvie Oscar a few months before she turned 18 in 1940. It was the only Oscar she ever received.

Bonus 5: The weirdest Oscar ever presented was an honourary award given in 1938 to Edgar Bergen — Candice’s father — “for his outstanding comedy creation, Charlie McCarthy.” Charlie McCarthy was a puppet, the most famous puppet in the world before the Muppets came along. So the Oscar presented to Edgar Bergen was carved of wood, like Pinocchio and Charlie McCarthy, and had a movable mouth.

Bonus 6: The venue of the Academy Awards for most of the past decade has been the Kodak Theatre in L.A.’s Hollywood and Highland shopping complex. When the Eastman Kodak Company — which had contracted to pay a total of $75 million for naming rights — filed for bankruptcy just before the 2012 Academy Awards, the venue’s name was quickly — and temporarily — changed to the Hollywood and Highland Center. Dolby Laboratories bought naming rights a few months later and the venue is now officially known as the Dolby Theatre.

Bonus 7: The first Academy Awards ceremony to run more than three hours was the 46th in 1974 when The Sting beat The Exorcist, American Graffiti and an infidelity comedy called A Touch of Class (oh, and a bit of Ingmar Bergman fluff, Cries and Whispers) for Best Picture. It was also the year a naked streaker (I know that’s a redundancy but streaking is now so passé that some people don’t know what it means) ran across the stage as David Niven was introducing Elizabeth Taylor and 10-year-old Tatum O’Neal won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

 

Bonus 8: The first ceremony to go more than four hours was the 71st in 1999 when Shakespeare In Love won Best Picture and Roberto Benigni won Best Ham, er, Actor. The main reason seems to have been extremely long acceptance speeches. It was the first time the Academy Awards were held on a Sunday night, but I don’t think that was a factor. The show also ran over four hours in 2000 and 2002, but it wasn’t until the 2010 show that a 45-second limit was placed on acceptance speeches. The last couple of telecasts have been in the three-hour, 15-minute range.

 

Bonus 9: The most anticipation at this year’s show will probably revolve around whether Seth MacFarlane makes a crack about the supposedly drunken interview that his TED star, Mark Wahlberg, did on British TV recently. Wahlberg will be on stage as a presenter during the show.

 

Bonus 10: The name of the winner of the Best Actor Oscar last year was Jean Dujardin.

The-End

Really.

 

Easter egg: To qualify as a “feature film” a movie must be at least 40 minutes long.

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4 comments

  1. Technoguppy says:

    LOTR: The Return of the King also won Best Picture, fairly certain it’s a sequel too. In fact, it was all 11 categories it was nominated for at the 76th Academy Awards.

    No fact checker’s in the office this weekend?

  2. Jonathan says:

    Bonus 2 is wrong: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won best picture and it’s a sequel.

  3. Alan Parker says:

    Well, spank me with a soggy noodle — of course you’re right about LOTR3. What else did I get wrong in the 4,000 or 5,000 other words I wrote (all without a fact checker, I might add — blame it all of me)?

  4. Alan Parker says:

    Actually it’s 3,462 words — but who’s counting.

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