Not everyone keeps up with Hollywood award ceremonies–especially when people just fight over which movies should or shouldn’t win awards or whatever. But when it comes to the Academy Awards one thing is constant: the little gold statuettes everybody gets called “Oscars.” Well. That and everyone’s going to fight about who got the little gold guy. But why are they called the Oscars?
Designing the Statuette
In 2013 the Academy Awards rebranded themselves as “the Oscars” to seem more down to Earth or whatever. They also made their own timeline weirdly confusing. Which means before the awards themselves were called Oscars, they were called something else.
They were just called the “Academy Award of Merit.” Which shouldn’t surprise you since the award show was called the Academy Awards and the simplest answer is normally the right one.
Anyway, the original statuette was sketched by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons–who was also one of the Academy’s founding members. Then he won 11 awards.
While the origin of the Oscar nickname is disputed–as many stories that pass through word of mouth are–one dates all the way back to Gibbons’ original sketches in the original 1930s. It’s said that Academy Librarian Margaret Herrick coined the name “Oscar,” kind of by accident. When she first saw the little bronze crusader she allegedly remarked that the statuette looked like her uncle Oscar.
Bam, slam, welcome to the jam. We’ve got a name, now let’s go fight about the Oscar winners.
But Maybe it Was a Roast
The Academy Awards rebranded itself as “the Oscars” because it started catching on to how pompous it was. Turns out people were catching on in 1934 too–just a couple years after the first Academy Awards ceremony around 1929. Sidney Skolsky seems to have the first officially documented use of the Oscar nickname–from an article in the New York Daily News.
Skolsky claims to have used the nickname “Oscar” in 1934 to mock the Academy Awards. He found it snobby and wanted to humanize the little crusader statuette. This is from his 1975 memoir Don’t Get Me Wrong, I Love Hollywood
“It was my first Academy Awards night when I gave the gold statuette a name. I wasn’t trying to make it legitimate. The snobbery of that particular Academy Award annoyed me. I wanted to make the gold statuette human.”
The same year Skolsky made fun of the Oscar statuette, Walt Disney would call the award his “little Oscar” during his acceptance speech for Three Little Pigs. Which… definitely legitimized the term. Regardless, though, the Academy Awards wouldn’t officially adopt the Oscar moniker until 1939–mostly because everyone was already using the name anyway. We all know how hard it is to change the hive mind of the public.
Here’s a fun fact, nobody really owns their awards. At least after the 50s anyway. The Academy requires recipients sell the statuette back to them for a dollar–otherwise the Academy gets to keep the statuette. This is mostly to keep awardees from reselling their statuettes, there’s a lot of legalese. That does mean awards handed out before 1950 sell for like 6-figure sums.
See if you know all the best picture Oscars here.