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Film History Hollywood

A Little History of The Oscars

Hooray for Hollywood!

With the big night now only a couple of weeks away, I thought it as good a time as any to take a brief look at what is undoubtedly the most prestigious and recognisable awards ceremony in the world: The Oscars. Guaranteed glitz, glamour, and history making galore, pop open the fizz and indulge in a whistle stop tour of the origins of this cultural icon – you might even find some handy trivia to set you up quite nicely at your next pub quiz:

Programme for the inaugural Academy Awards Ceremony, in celebration of AMPAS’ second anniversary – 1929

  • 1927 saw the formation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), and with it came an opportunity to give recognition to the ever-growing world of film. At one of the organisation’s many meetings in Los Angeles, it was decided the Academy would devise an award system to honour all aspects of motion picture film making.
  • The same year, Metro Goldwyn Mayer art director Cedric Gibbons provided the first sketch of what would soon become the instantly recognisable silhouette of the Academy Award: the figure is depicted as a knight holding onto a sword, standing on a reel of film. The film reel boasts five spokes, to represent the five original branches of the Academy – actors, directors, producers, technicians, and writers. The Academy’s board of directors instantly adopted the design as their emblem, using it as their ‘cover star’ of the 1927 Academy magazine.
  • In 1928, Gibbons decided to bring the Academy icon to life, and employed sculptor George Stanley to make the dream a reality. Stanley worked from several versions of Gibbons’ original sketches, streamlining and refining the figure until its now iconic guise was achieved – The Oscar statuette was born!
  • On May 16th, 1929 the first Academy Awards gathering took place in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, hosted by Douglas Fairbanks (director of AMPAS). Although a glamourous affair, this wasn’t the elaborate ceremony we know the Oscars to be today; in actual fact the ceremony took place in the form of a private banquet, honouring the films from 1927 and 1928. 270 guests were in attendance, with tickets costing $5 (the equivalent of $74.45 today). The entire event lasted a mere 15 minutes.
  • The first recipients of the Academy Award included Emil Jannings winning Best Actor for his roles in “The Last Command” and “The Ways of All Flesh”, Janet Gaynor winning best actress for both “7th Heaven” and “Street Angel”, and the coveted Best Picture going to Paramount’s “Wings”. Both Charlie Chaplin and Warner Brother Studios were decorated with honorary awards for exceptional contribution to film.
  • The first Academy Award ceremony is the only one not to receive any kind of public broadcasting – the 2nd Academy Awards in 1930 was the first to receive a radio broadcast and the first televised ceremony came much later in 1953.
  • The Oscar statue itself stands 131 ½ inches tall and weighs in at a hefty 8 ½ pounds (a lot heavier than your shampoo bottle!). Although the design of the award hasn’t been altered from the original 1928 Stanley model, the base has changed marginally over the years, with the present standard being set in 1945.
  • The official name for the award is the “Academy Award of Merit”, but it is most commonly recognised as an “Oscar”. The origins of the iconic nickname aren’t certain; however, Hollywood lore most frequently pins the story to one of the Academy’s original librarians, and eventual Executive Director, Margaret Herrick who is thought to have exclaimed the statue looked just like her Uncle Oscar.  The nickname wasn’t used officially by the Academy until 1939.
  • At the first awards ceremony, 15 gold plated, solid bronze statuettes were presented. A few years later, the composition was switched from bronze to pewter-alloy, which apparently made it easier to give the Oscar a smooth, golden finish. Due to shortage of metals during WWII, the Oscar was made of painted plastic for three years, after which, the recipients were able to exchange them for gold plated metal versions.

Hollywood’s elite attend the first Academy Awards banquet in 1929, which would later evolve into the elaborate ceremony we are familiar with today
  • 24 main categories fill the modern-day Academy Awards, however the number of statuettes that will be presented won’t be known until the envelopes are opened on Oscar night! The winner’s details are inscribed on the award directly after they receive it. Since the inaugural banquet in 1929, over 3,100 Oscar statuettes have been awarded.
  •  In 2000, the Academy landed themselves in hot water after a publicity event centred around the delivery of the Oscars to the Dolby Theatre (where the ceremony is now held) went wrong, leading to the allocation of awards being stolen a few weeks before presentation day. Luckily, they were recovered just in time for the ceremony, and ever since an additional ceremony’s worth of statuettes are produced and kept in the Academy’s vault, just in case!
  • The most decorated actress in history is Katherine Hepburn, winning four Oscars throughout her career. Jack Nicholson, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Walter Brennan all share the top spot for most decorated actor, winning 3 a piece. Three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep holds the record for most nominated individual (a staggering 21 times), leaving Peter O’ Toole and Glenn Close with the less glamourous accolade of most nominations without actually winning.
  • Ben-Hur” (1959), “Titanic” (1997), and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003) are the films credited with the most Oscar wins in history – 11 wins each. The latter is the only film to win in every category it was nominated.
  • Walt Disney is the current record holder for most awards won by an individual – 32 in total, including an honorary award for the creation of Mickey Mouse and special recognition for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” – in which Disney was presented with a regular sized statuette and seven miniatures.
  • In September 2021, AMPAS are opening the “Academy Museum of Motion Pictures” in Los Angeles, which will offer an immersive and unique look into the history of cinema. They claim to tell the complete story of movie making – from the celebratory, to the critical and uncomfortable. Visitors will be able to get up close to some of the most iconic objects that have shaped Hollywood’s history, including the ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz”, concept artwork from classics like “Spartacus” and “Citizen Kane” and the original R2-D2 and C3PO from “Star Wars”. Of course, there will be the odd Oscar Statuette on display too! The museum will also house the Academy Film Archive and a library, affectionately dedicated to Margaret Herrick.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in LA is set to wow film history lovers when it opens this September

The 93rd annual Academy Award ceremony will take place on Monday 26th April, 2021 (GMT Time) – more information here

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