The Oscars were originally called the ‘Academy Awards,’ and were officially rebranded in 2013. The new name was the same as that of the statuette trophy which the winners receive. The Oscar show co-producer Neil Meron said,
“We’re not calling it ‘the 85th annual Academy Awards,’ which keeps it mired somewhat in a musty way. It’s called ‘The Oscars.”
The awards were named after the trophy, but why was the trophy named so?
There are some fascinating theories about this nickname. The term was first coined by Margaret Herrick who was the Academy Award Librarian. When Herrick first saw the statue in 1931, she said that it resembled her Uncle Oscar. The author of All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards Emanuel Levy says that this happened when Sidney Skolsky was around, and therefore, the statuette came to be known as the Oscar.
The nickname remained among the employees for some years. Skolsky first used it as a joke in an article published in New York Daily News in 1934. However, the joke was not perceived in a sense in which it was made in a memoir titled Don’t Get Me Wrong, I Love Hollywood. Skolsky said that he was only referencing to the classic joke line, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” as an attempt to mock the Academy Awards. The memoir says:
It was my first Academy Awards night when I gave the gold statuette a name. I wasn’t trying to make it legitimate. The snobbery of that particular Academy Award annoyed me. I wanted to make the gold statuette human. … It was twelve thirty when I finally arrived at the Western Union office on Wilcox to write and file my story. I had listened to Academy, industry, and acceptance talk since seven thirty … There I was with my notes, a typewriter, blank paper, and that Chandler feeling.
You know how people can rub you the wrong way. The word was a crowd of people. I’d show them, acting so high and mighty about their prize. I’d give it a name. A name that would erase their phony dignity. I needed the magic name fast. But fast! I remembered the vaudeville shows I’d seen. The comedians having fun with the orchestra leader in the pit would say, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” The orchestra leader reached for it; the comedians backed away, making a comical remark. The audience laughed at Oscar. I started hitting the keys …
“THE ACADEMY awards met with the approval of Hollywood, there being practically no dissension … The Academy went out of its way to make the results honest and announced that balloting would continue until 8:00 o’clock of the banquet evening … Then many players arrive late and demanded the right to vote … So voting continued until 10 o’clock or for two hours after the ballot boxes were supposed to be closed … It was King Vidor who said: “This year the election is on the level” … Which caused every one to comment about the other years … Although Katharine Hepburn wasn’t present to receive her Oscar, her constant companion and the gal she resides with in Hollywood, Laura Harding, was there to hear Hepburn get a round of applause for a change…”
During the next year of columns, whenever referring to the Academy Award, I used the word ‘Oscar.’ In a few years, Oscar was the accepted name. It proved to be the magic name.
Skolsky backs his claim by clear evidence, but there is still some doubt that he coined the term, Oscar. In 1934, Walt Disney in his acceptance speech for Three Little Pigs used it in a positive sense. It is possible, however, that Herrick thought that it did resemble her uncle and Skolsky helped popularize it.
The Academy Award statuette was designed as a knight gripping a sword while standing on a film reel. Thought up by MGM director Cedric Gibbons, the first statuette appeared on the first Academy Award ceremony held on May 16, 1929. The name Oscar was officially adopted in 1939. The knight stands on a reel that signifies the original five branches of the Academy: writers, directors, actors, producers, and technicians.
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