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How Oscar Got His Moniker

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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was born in the after dinner conversation at Louis B. Mayer’s beach house in early 1927, during which the then-powerful studio chief of Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer exclaimed that he had “a wonderful idea for an organization to represent the entire industry as a whole.”

The idea caught on and two months later, Articles of Incorporation were presented, and the first officers were elected: Douglas Fairbanks (president), M. C. Levee (treasurer), and Frank Woods (secretary).

The following year, an Award of Merit was proposed to recognize excellence in a dozen or so categories, to be presented in a gala annual event, as much for public relations as for internal acknowledgment. MGM art director Cedric Gibbons designed the now-familiar statuette, and sculptor George Stanley was paid $500 to cast the first figure. It was 13 and half inches high, weighed 8 and three quarters of a  pound and it was made of gold-plated Brittania metal.

Sometime during the first decade of its life, the nickname of “Oscar” was tagged to the Academy Award, and, at various times, three people have been credited with the christening:

1. The official version is that in 1931, MARGARET HERRICK, a long-time executive director of the Academy, but then a newly hired librarian, observed at the sight of the statuette: “Why, it looks like my uncle, Oscar.” Other employees of the Academy took up the nickname and its use began to spread.

2. Hollywood columnist SIDNEY SKOLSKY says he made up the name Oscar because he got tired of referring to the Academy Award as “the statuette.”

3. BETTE DAVIS, who won her first Oscar in 1935 (for Dangerous) and is the only woman ever to be president of the Academy, insists that she dubbed it for her first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson.

The first Academy Award Presentation ceremonies was witnessed by some 250 people at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16, 1929. Today, billions worldwide watch the annual festivities on television.

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