It’s one of the most coveted awards of the year, bestowed upon the best and brightest for their cinematic achievements by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: the Oscar. A trophy so sought after that recipients like Anne Hathaway and Alicia Vikander have been photographed kissing theirs after winning the award. And when Leonardo DiCaprio was awarded one in 2016 after years of nominations, it meant the Internet’s long-running gif gags that Leo would be forever chasing the Oscar were finally over.
For as sought-after as this expressionless icon is within the film industry, there’s not much that the common viewer actually knows about the statuette. A mascot in its own right, yet deeply shrouded in mystery, it’s an enigmatic prize we only think about once a year at best. In celebration of the 89thAcademy Awards on Sunday February 26, let’s pull back the curtain on its most enduring silver screen legend.
Created in 1929, this statuette is officially named the “Academy Award® of Merit.” (Hence where “merit” comes into play in the title of this post.) Who’s Oscar then, anyway?
Nobody truly knows, according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The most popular theory is that Margaret Herrick, the Academy’s first librarian and later Executive Director of the Academy, called it “Oscar” when she first saw the award, as it resembled her Uncle Oscar. Others speculated to have coined the moniker included actress Bette Davis and gossip columnist Sidney Skolsky. In 1939, the Academy formally adopted the nickname in referring to the statuette.
Contrary to popular belief, the Oscar was never modeled after any real-life likeness. Designed by Cedric Gibbons, Chief Art Director at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the trophy design is of a knight. He holds a crusader’s sword close to his frame, standing upon a film reel with five spokes. The five spokes represent actors, directors, producers, technicians, and writers, AKA the Academy’s five branches. George Stanley, a Los Angeles sculptor, gave the award the three dimensions that we see it as today.
Unlike some brand mascots, which may be revamped over time to remain relevant with younger audiences, the statuette remains ever dignified now as he was then. Only the size of his base has varied since 1945.
Weighing in at 8 1/2 pounds with a height of 13 1/2 inches, you’ll never catch the Oscar being mass-produced on an assembly line.
Manufactured by Polich Tallix fine art foundry, it takes three months to complete the creation of 50 statuettes. Each trophy is plated in 24-karat gold, with solid bronze underneath.
Ever since Emil Jannings won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performances in “The Last Command” and “The Way of All Flesh” in 1929, a whopping 3,048 Oscars have been presented to recipients of the show. Over 80 years later, and the award receives as much buzz and photo opportunities on the red carpet as any celebrity or fashionable ensemble. Winner pose with pride with their trophies, giving tearful, joyful speeches while clutching one in hand, thrilled for the acknowledgement that receiving one means within the film community and their professional careers.
Funnily enough, there are always extra Oscar awards kept on hand during the Academy Awards. While 25 regular categories are honored during the show, it’s impossible to predict ties or multiple recipients for the same award in advance. Until the envelopes are opened, nobody will know how many Oscars will be handed out that evening.
As for the leftover statuettes, they’re given to Meryl Streep. Just kidding — those head into the Academy’s vault for safekeeping until next year’s ceremony.