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THE OSCAR

by Ema Kravanja about a year ago in pop culture
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HOW DID THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS STATUE GOT ITS NAME?

You don’t have to be a movie fanatic to know that every award season comes down to one big ceremony, the Academy Awards aka The Oscars. Everybody knows that golden statue's name, everyone knows its value, but not everybody knows how the world’s most famous statue actually got the name “Oscar”.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences aka The Academy first presented their awards back in 1929, the statues were known as “The Academy Award of Merit” and were awarded for achievements in the filmmaking industry in 12 different categories, and the entire ceremony lasted only about 15 minutes (whereas nowadays we have to wait for about 4 hours to find out the winner for best picture category).

By the time the Academy Awards celebrated a decade milestone, the Academy had officially adopted the name “Oscar.” However, the story of the origin of the nickname varies.

The trophy depicts a knight standing on a reel of film and gripping a crusader’s sword.

The first theory leads us to LA writer and columnist Sidney Skolsky. The Academy credits Skolsky with "the first confirmed newspaper reference" to Oscar in his column in a New York Daily News article on March 16 in 1934, which was written about that year's 6th Academy Awards: “Katharine Hepburn won the Oscar for her performance as Eva Lovelace in ‘Morning Glory’, her third Hollywood film.” According to Skolsky he named the statue “Oscar” as a way of mocking the snobbery and pomposity of the 1934 Academy ceremony. “Oscar” was a reference to Oscar Hammerstein Sr. As a theater owner on Broadway, the senior Hammerstein would sometimes be made fun of by vaudeville comedians; the punchline always being: “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” Despite the fact that Skolsky had evidence to back his claim, it is still not sure if he was the one who actually coined the nickname “Oscar.” When Walt Disney won for Three Little Pigs in 1934 he thanked the Academy for his little “Oscar” in his acceptance speech. At the time the term Oscar was commonly used as a way to mock the Academy Awards, yet Walt Disney was the first in the industry to use the name in a positive way.

Walt Disney holds the record for winning the most Oscars in history; he won 22 competitive Oscars and received 3 honorary ones. He is pictured here at the 26th Academy Awards in 1954 where he won 4 Oscars in one night.

The second frequently mentioned originator is the Academy executive secretary Margaret Herrick. When she first laid her eyes on one of the statues in 1931, she reportedly said that it looked like her “Uncle Oscar”, a nickname for her cousin Oscar Pierce. This theory is most commonly referenced today.

The third person who claimed she was the one to name the statue was the 2 time Academy Award winner Bette Davis, who was also the president of the Academy in 1941. Davis stated she named the statue after winning in the best actress category in 1936 for her performance in a 1935 film Dangerous. Apparently the statue’s naked butt reminded her of her then husband’s – Harmon Oscar Nelson Jr, after getting out of the shower.

When searching through archives Tim Gray and John Matsuya found the first three mentions of the name “Oscar” when referring to the statue. Bette Davis has indeed referred to her golden statue as her “little Oscar” in March 1936, but that already puts her claim behind Sklosky and Herrick.

By 1939, the name had become so associated with the awards that it was officially adopted by the Academy. And despite people might disagree on where his name came from and who came up with it first, we can all agree on one thing. After 93 years in the business the “Oscar” is still the number one statue in Hollywood and has become the industry’s standard for quality in the world of filmmaking.

pop culture

About the author

Ema Kravanja

Leap day baby, a Slovenian girl following her dream to become an actress. Currently living and studying at Acting Coach Scotland in Glasgow.

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