The Oscar

How Art Shapes Our Life

Sal MaccaroneFebruary 23, 2012 

The fine arts include those art forms that are developed primarily for aesthetics and concept rather than for practical application. These, the greater arts, have historically included painting, sculpture, music, poetry and some architecture. Today, with the triumphs and inventions of the last one hundred years or so, there have been some additions to that list. Cinematography is a discipline to do with [among other things] lighting and camera choices while recording images for the cinema. The resulting product, a film, is now considered be among the fine art forms.

The American Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences was the idea of Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Mr. Mayer felt that an organization such as this would lend respectability and status to the movie industry, the reputation of which had been tarnished during the "Roaring Twenties." So, on May 4, 1927 the (AMPAS) was formed to 'raise the cultural, educational and scientific standards' of film making as a whole.

An Academy Award is an honor bestowed by the AMPAS which goes to recognize excellence in the film industry. Nominated directors, actors and writers gather in one place each year in great anticipation of winning an "Oscar," which is officially named the "Academy Award of Merit."

The formal ceremony at which this all takes place is televised live in more than 100 countries and is watched by forty million viewers. The first Academy Award ceremony, honoring the 1927-28 film season, was held on May 16, 1929 at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. The upcoming 84th award ceremony, honoring films made in 2011, will be held at the Kodak Theatre, also located in Hollywood, on Feb. 26, 2012.

An actual Oscar statuette is a 13 1/2 inch tall, eight pound image of a knight clutching a crusader's sword while standing on a five-spoke reel of film. Each spoke of the wheel is meant to represent one of the original branches of the Academy which included: Actors, Writers, Directors, Producers, and Technicians.

Elegantly rendered in the Art Deco style, each Oscar is cast in a tin and copper amalgam, which is then gold-plated. The statuette's design was the charge of Cedric Gibbons (1893-1960), who was an original member of the Academy and the art director at MGM. Emilio Fernandez (1904-1986), an actor, was talked into posing as the nude model. Sculptor George Stanley (1903-1970) then rendered the vision in clay, and that was used to make a mold.

The first casting from that mold was done in 1928 at the C.W. Shumway & Sons Foundry in Batavia, Ill. Interestingly, Cedric Gibbons went on to become an eleven-times recipient of his own creation.

How Oscar happened to acquire his name is the subject of much debate. Legend has it that the Academy librarian, Margaret Herric, chanced to remark on studying the statue in 1931, "Why, he resembles my Uncle Oscar!", as a news reporter [who coined the phrase] happened to walk by. Just as likely is the competing story that Bette Davis named it after her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson. There are other claims as well! Whatever the case may really be, The trophy was officially dubbed the "Oscar" in 1939, the nickname stuck, and people have been comfortable using it ever since.

Quite valuable in their own right, the Oscar statuettes are awarded with one stipulation attached. Since 1950, neither the winners or their heirs are allowed to ever sell them privately without first offering to sell them back to the Academy for just one dollar. Oscars that are not protected by this agreement have been known to sell for incredible sums.

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