“Having “Oscar winner” on your tombstone is a great thing.”, George Clooney.
It all started with Louis B. Mayer, the American film producer and co-founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, or MGM.
In the late 1920s, studio unions began forming in Hollywood. Those unions came with expensive labor agreements, which costed a lot for film studios. Also, it’s been said that Louis B. Mayer wanted some MGM set designers to build his beach house in Santa Monica, but because of the unions and their new signed contracts, his other project “on the side” would be very expensive.
Louis B. Mayer got really annoyed. In order to curb the new formed expensive labor unions, and to avoid more other unions to be formed in the future, he created with a couple of Hollywood friends the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences or AMPAS, on May 11, 1927.
With 36 actors, directors, writers, technicians and producers, a deal was made. The meeting happened in a fancy hotel, and he convinced them that if they signed on as “Academy members”, they would be part of an elite organization and their work conditions would improve. They agreed and signed on, none of them wanted to miss out that opportunity.
Many people from the industry later committed to the Academy, but it didn’t look like a legitimate organization as a few events were happening to showcase them. That is when the idea of an Award of the Academy event was thought about.
In 1929 was organized the first ceremony, to honor all of the films released in the last year. It happened at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, in the iconic Blossom Room, where 250 people were invited at that very fancy and classy event. It was then a private event hosted by the actor, screenwriter, director, producer and first president of the Academy, Douglas Fairbanks. Golden Statues had been prepared as a reward to the winners. People were able to buy tickets to attend the private event and dinner for only $5!
Louis B. Mayer later said “I found that the best way to handle [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them. […] If I got them cups and awards they’d kill themselves to produce what I wanted. That’s why the Academy Award was created.”
Today the Academy has over 7,000 members, with actors representing the biggest part of the composition.
About Oscar, the statuette
The first one was created in 1929. It was designed by MGM’s chief art director Cedric Gibbons, and made by sculptor George Stanley. It wasn’t called an Oscar back then.
In 1931, when she first saw it, the Academy executive secretary Margaret Herrick, said the statuette reminded her of “Uncle Oscar”, the nickname of her cousin Oscar Pierce. People heard it and started referring to the statuette as “Oscar”.
In 1939, after being used informally for several years, the name “Oscar” for the statuette was officially adopted by the Academy.
The statuette represents a knight with a crusaders’ sword standing on a reel of film, with 5 spokes representing the 5 original branches of the Academy (actors, directors, producers, technicians, and writers).
Today they are made of solid bronze and 24-karat gold. Fun fact, due to a metal shortage during World War II, Oscars were made of painted plaster for 3 years!
The Oscar statuettes are prestigious, but following official regulations, they cannot be sold before first offering to sell it back to the Academy for $1. So that makes each Oscar worth $1!
That being said, the Oscars or Academy Awards and its ceremony remains the most prestigious, and famous awards for artistic and technical merit in the film industry.
Are you into the Academy Awards’ ceremony, like waiting for it and making predictions of the winners? What do you think is it about that makes it so prestigious and legit to that day?