Officially named the Academy Award® of Merit, the statuette is better known by its nickname, Oscar, however, the origins of which aren’t clear. A popular story circulating about the nickname was that Margaret Herrick, Academy librarian, thought it resembled her Uncle Oscar and then the Academy staff began calling it Oscar. It wasn’t until the the sixth Awards presentation in 1934, that Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky actually used the name in his column in reference to Katharine Hepburn’s first Best Actress win. The Academy didn’t officially use the nickname until 1939.
Oscar stands 13 1/2 inches tall and weighs a robust 8 1/2 pounds. The design of the statuette has never changed from its original conception however the base did change until 1945 when that became standardized.
First Oscar Presentation
Just after the movies started being “talkies” the first Academy Awards were handed out on May 16th 1929 in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel with 270 people in attendance.
The Academy President, Douglas Fairbanks, handed out the statuettes.
Fairbanks was one of the 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). He was also a very astute businessman, and was a founding member of United Artists. Back then the award recipients knew 3 months ahead of the ceremony. However, that changed as the next decade the newspapers were given advance notice for publication the night before at 11 PM before the awards. This changed again and in 1940 the LA Times announced the winners ahead of the approved time so the Academy adopted the sealed-envelope system and this is the method of announcing the winners that are used today.
The Academy Awards started out at banquet affairs but with the increased attendance and WWII made it impractical as the presentation ceremonies moved to a theatre setting. The 16th Academy Awards was held at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and was covered by network radio to be broadcast overseas for American GIs. The Awards move from Grauman’s to the Shrine Auditorium to the Melrose Avenue Theatre and then moved to the Pantages Theatre.
It was on March 19, 1953 that the Academy Awards was first televised with Bob Hope as a master of ceremonies and was broadcast on NBC-TV and radio network. In 1961 the Awards moved to Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and changed to ABC-TV Network.
Color broadcasts started in 1966 and from 1971 – 1975 NBC-TV carried the broadcasts again. The Awards show moved back to ABC-TV in 1976 and will continue through 2014 under the current contract. (HOT NEWS: just in today 2/24/2011: ABC just received an extension to their contract for another six years through 2020.)
There were more venue changes from 1969 going from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to the LA County Music Center until 1987 when they returned back to the Shrine Auditorium. The venue switched back and forth between these two sites over the next twelve years and have been held at the Kodak Theatre since 2002.
The first year there were 15 statuettes awarded (14 to men and one to Janet Gaynor, Best Actress). The second year it was reduced to seven but thereafter the number of winners and categories grew steadily. In 1934 the Academy signed with Price Waterhouse to tabulate and ensure the secrecy of the results. This years ballots are going to be tabulated by PricewaterhouseCoopers (new name adopted in 1998).
There were only three times that the Academy Awards did not go off as scheduled:
- 1938 Floods – Delayed the ceremony one week
- 1968 Postponed in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr who had been assassinated
- 1981 Postponed 24 hours due to the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan
One more fun fact – attendance at the Academy Awards ceremony is by invitation only and no tickets are available for the public.
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