The Origins of the Oscars

It’s probably fair to say that we all know what the Academy Awards, or ‘Oscars’ as they’re better known, are. They are without a doubt the most prestigious of filmmaking awards given out every year. They have become a stamp of quality; a nomination alone can give a film a certain prestige. Personally, once a list of nominations has been released my interest in the films involved is certainly magnified and I’m sure this is the same for many of you too. But how did it all start?

Today the awards ceremony is a massive affair. It takes place over a few hours with coverage taking place even earlier; in fact the arrival of the guests on the now infamous ‘red carpet’ has become a show in itself, hosting every A-list celebrity in the business wearing outfits by the hottest designers. The first show however was a far cry from these lofty heights.

We saw the first ever Academy Awards presentation on 16th May 1929, the awards were presented at a private dinner function at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to an audience of around 270 people. Tickets cost $5 each and a total of fifteen awards were given out over 15 minutes. As previously mentioned the show now runs for hours and is hosted at the Dolby Theatre, which has a seating capacity of a much larger 3,300 people.

The winners for the first ceremony were announced 3 months in advance, however after the success of its initial outing this was changed and left as a surprise until the night. The second was the first of the ceremonies to be broadcast to the public via the radio and newspapers were sent the results on the day to publish at 11:00pm on the night. This changed in 1941 when the Los Angeles Times printed the results before the ceremony was aired, bringing about the sealed envelopes that are now synonymous with the awards.

The awards themselves are officially called ‘Academy Award of Merit’ however they are more commonly known as “Oscar’s”, there’s no definite story behind the name though there are a few possible ones. Arguably the most likely of these is that the Academy’s Executive Secretary, a lady named Margaret Herrick, once claimed the award looked like her cousin Oscar Pierce who she called “Uncle Oscar”, after this the name stuck.

The Oscar statuettes were initially made of a gold plated bronze, depicting a knight holding a sword in the art deco style that is forever tied to the golden age of cinema. The knight is stood atop a film wheel with five spokes, each representing the original branches of the Academy which were actors, writers, directors, producers and technicians.  It stands at 13.5 inches tall and weighs 8.5lbs. Since then metals in the statue have changed and the base has been slightly streamlined however it still keeps its same design along with its glamorous golden coating.

Finally I’ll leave you with this fun fact; during the Second World War due to a metal shortage, for three years the awards had to instead be made from plaster and painted gold. After, once the war had ended the recipients were offered gold plated metal replacements. The more you know!


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