If you’re not already swamped on all social media accounts and news sites by the Oscars, well, you’re about to be. Today is the day the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out the Academy Award of Merit – an ‘Oscar’ – across a wide array of categories.
Why do they call an Academy Award of Merit an Oscar, though? We’re not entirely sure.
Arguably the most recognisable statuette in the world, and certainly one of the most recognisable in the arts, the Academy Award of Merit is a gold-plated bronze knight that stands 34.3 centimetres tall and weighs just under four kilograms.
The statuette is reportedly based on the figure of Mexican all-rounder Emilio Fernandez, who stripped down for designer Cedric Gibbons 1929, before the very first Academy Award was sculpted by George Stanley. The Academy has never explicitly confirmed this – in fact, they suggest no model was used for the design.
Did the statuette get its name from Fernandez? Get out! Of course not – Emilio Fernandez did have a nickname, but it wasn’t ‘Oscar’.
So then, where did the name come from?
The Academy’s official Oscars website offers up an explanation but suggests that it is only a popular origin story for Oscar and that the nickname’s official beginnings aren’t clear. Their story involves the Academy librarian, Margaret Herrick, remarking upon seeing the statute that it looked like her Uncle Oscar.
For some years, it was believed that the name was spawned by one of Hollywood’s most celebrated actresses and owner of famous eyes – Bette Davis – who had apparently named the statue after her first husband.
Davis withdrew those claims, so our best lead was that old mate Uncle Oscar wass the inspiration for the Academy Awards famous nickname.
Enter Barry Popik: Wordsmith.
Popik claims that the term was officially coined by Sidney Skolsky in a column back in 1934. Though some claim Walt Disney used the term prior to this, this is considered to be untrue. Skolsky wrote that his inspiration for the line came from the line “Have a cigar, Oscar” in reference to Oscar Hammerstein I. This is the oft-untold story of the Oscars name – and one that doesn’t get as much air as the Academy’s story about the origins being unclear.
The widespread adoption after his publication led to the term being taken by the Academy and that’s why today, you’ll hear the name Oscar about forty thousand times before the day is done.
So there you have it. We can give it to Skolsky for now, but the most prestigious award in film is called an Oscar and the Academy is convinced no one really knows why.
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