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The Oscar® statue, Hollywood's movie darling

Every spring, Hollywood buzzes as the movie industry prepares for its biggest awards presentation: the Academy Awards, commonly known as the Oscars. On Oscar night, millions of people in the U.S. watch the show on television to see if their favorite movie won the prized Oscar® statue. The Oscars have become an American social occasion, the place where Hollywood's popular and powerful go to see and be seen.

Now, we'll learn about the Oscar statue, the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Academy), the winners and interesting moments in Oscar history.

Who is Oscar?
 Oscar® Deviations
Source: The American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

  • In the early years, the Academy gave child winners miniature Oscars.
  • In 1937, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy, won an Oscar for special acting: a wooden Oscar with a moveable mouth.
  • In 1938, the Academy honored Walt Disney with one full-size Oscar and seven miniature statuettes for the animation in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
  • During World War II, Oscars were made of plaster. Winners were allowed to turn in the plaster statues for gold ones when the war ended.
The Oscar statue is representative of Hollywood's best movie productions. According to the
Academy's Web site, the gold statue "depicts a knight holding a crusader's sword, standing on a reel of film with five spokes, signifying the original branches of the Academy: Actors, Writers, Directors, Producers and Technicians." The Award is a 8.5-pound (3.85 kg), 13.5-inch (34.3 cm) statue cast in bronze and plated in 24-karat gold, with a round, black marble base.

When the statue was created in 1928, it was referred to as the Academy Award of Merit. Although there are several stories that lay claim to naming the statue Oscar, the one that the Academy supports goes like this: then-Academy librarian Margaret Herrick remarked that the statue looked like her Uncle Oscar. The name stuck, and the Academy staff began referring to the statue as 'Oscar'. Writing about Katherine Hepburn's Best Actress win in 1934, Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky used the name 'Oscar' in his column, and it seemed to stick after that, although the Academy didn't recognize the name 'Oscar' officially until 1939.

Who Gives Oscar Away?
Oscar is awarded by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, commonly referred to as "the Academy." The Academy was formed in 1927, and is a professional honorary organization of more than 6,000 motion picture artists and craftsmen. The primary goal of the Academy is to "advance the arts and science of motion pictures."

How are Winners Decided?
Award nominations are usually announced in mid-February. But the voting has begun months prior to that announcement. Award nominees are voted for by secret ballot, with up to five nominees in each category. Voting members of the Academy can only vote for nominees in their respective Academy branch. There are 13 Academy branches: actors, art directors, cinematographers, directors, executives, film editors, music, producers, public relations, short films and feature animation, sound, visual effects and writers. This means that directors vote for directors, writers for writers, actors for actors, etc. All Academy members nominate and vote for Best Picture honors.

All Academy members are sent the secret ballots, then complete and return them to the Academy as late as the week of the awards. Ballots are opened and counted by an accounting firm, usually PricewaterhouseCoopers, chosen by the Academy president. Tabulation of final ballots is done by simple majority -- the Oscar goes to the entrant receiving the greatest number of votes. Write-in ballots have not been allowed since 1935.

How Are Films Chosen?
Every year, a few hundred films are released, most of which are Oscar-eligible. How do Academy members choose which films to nominate? According to the Academy Web site:

"Feature documentaries are selected in a first round of voting by a committee of Academy-member documentarians and a second round where all members of the Academy in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles are invited to see the films and participate in the final determination of the nominees. Best Picture nominations and final winners in most categories are determined by vote of the entire voting membership of approximately 5,700 individual filmmakers."

Is it Really a Secret?
In the Academy's early years, the award winners were announced the night before the ceremony. This allowed newspapers to have the winners listed in the late-night editions that would go out on the night of the Oscars after the winners had been announced. However, newspapers began printing the Oscar edition earlier in the evening, and by 1940, ceremony guests could pick up a paper and find out who won while on their way to the ceremony. Perhaps sensing that this early notification would bring an end to people actually attending the ceremony, and to add the suspense that we now associate with the ceremony, the Academy began keeping results in the sealed envelopes that we know today. Now, when the Oscar presenter says, "and the Oscar goes to...," we're all finding out at the same time.

Who Gets Oscar?
Actors and actresses, directors and producers, song writers and singers, and scenery and costume designers are all among the nominees. There are 24 categories for the
74th annual presentation (for year-2001 films) on March 24, 2002, as well as other special-recognition Oscars. At the first ceremony in 1927, awards were available in 13 categories. This year, awards will be given in the for:

  • Actor in a Leading Role
  • Actor in a Supporting Role
  • Actress in a Leading Role
  • Actress in a Supporting Role
  • Animated Feature Film
  • Art Direction
  • Cinematography
  • Costume Design
  • Directing
  • Documentary Feature
  • Documentary Short Subject
  • Film Editing
  • Writing (Original Screenplay)
  • Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
  • Visual Effects
  • Sound Editing
  • Sound
  • Short Film - Live Action
  • Short Film - Animated
  • Best Picture
  • Music (Song)
  • Music (Score)
  • Makeup
  • Foreign Language Film

Click here to see this year's nominees.

Winner Tidbits
Oscar's history is full of interesting moments, from films that won Best Picture without having any acting nominations to the 1998 awards ceremony when Italian actor-film director Roberto Benigni stood up on his seat in excitement when he won Best Actor in a Leading Role for his efforts in the film he also directed, "Life is Beautiful." The film also won for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Music (Original Dramatic Score).

Oldest Winner for Best Actor: Henry Fonda, "On Golden Pond," 76 years old (1981)
Oldest Actor to Receive an Award: Groucho Marx, Honorary Award, 83 years old (1973)
Youngest Winner: Shirley Temple, Special Award, 6 years old (1934)
Most Acting Nominations and Awards : Katherine Hepburn, 12 and four, respectively
Most Musical Nominations: John Williams, composer, 37 nominations
First Color Best Picture: "Gone With the Wind" (1939)
Most Film Nominations: "All About Eve," 14 (1950)
Most Film Awards: "Ben Hur," 11 (1959) and "Titanic," 11 (1997)
Source: Washington Post: Oscar Trivia

Growing Attention
 Did You Know...?
In 1959, actor-comedian Jerry Lewis hosted the Academy Awards show. It ran 20 minutes short.
The attention and interest surrounding the ceremony had grown so much by the second year of the ceremony that the media began to have live coverage. The first telecast (black and white) of the Oscars was in 1953, and Bob Hope was the host. Modern shows are broadcast on U.S.-network television. This availability has contributed to the frenzy of media attention that now swirls around pre-Oscar get-togethers, the ceremony itself and post-ceremony parties. Modern Oscar ceremonies aren't just about movies, either. Musical guests are often invited to perform at the televised event, increasing appeal to a wider television audience. Great scrutiny is placed on who the nominees are,
what the attendees wear, what the winners say, and who snubbed the ceremony to stay home.

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