Who will win the Oscar? Movie buffs everywhere are looking forward to results of the annual Academy Award competition on Sunday night.
That’s not Oscar Wilde or Oscar Hammerstein, of course. We mean that 8-pound gold statuette so beloved in Hollywood. The question for today: How did this famous “Oscar” get its name?
Most awards nicknames have obvious sources.
- For instance, the Tony Awards on Broadway are nicknamed in honor of actress/director Antoinette Perry, who died in 1946. The Tony Awards began the next year.
- The Grammy Awards, given by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, are a diminutive of “gramophone,” coined way back in 1887 to describe a device to record and reproduce sound. (Gramophone was a trademark based on the inversion of “phonogram.”) As Variety tells the story, there was discussion in 1958 of calling the award the “Eddy,” to honor Thomas Edison. But the name “Grammy” prevailed, backed by Academy governors such as Elmer Bernstein and Stan Freberg.
- Television’s Emmy Awards get their moniker from a pioneer TV engineer and the third president of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. He suggested “Immy,” a term commonly used around 1950 for the early image orthicon camera. The name stuck and was later modified to Emmy, which was considered more appropriate for a female symbol.
But the origin of Oscar, as the award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is commonly known, is shrouded in showbiz lore. Consider:
- In its earliest years (1929-1933), the award – a naked knight standing on a reel of film with his hands gripping a sword – was simply called “The Statue.”
- In 1934, a Hollywood columnist supposedly used the name “Oscar” in referring to the Best Actress award to Katherine Hepburn. He said he invented the nickname to deflate the “pretension” of the ceremony.
- Walt Disney is also reported to have called it by that name in the same year at the Awards ceremony.
- The most popular story about the name’s origin involves the Academy’s librarian and future executive director. The story goes that, upon seeing the statuette sitting on a table, she exclaimed, “It looks just like my Uncle Oscar!” The staff began jokingly referring to the statue as “Oscar” and by 1939, that was the official name.
- The best story of all? According to the TV program Myths and Legends, the name came from actress Bette Davis. Upon receiving her first Academy Award, she took a glance at the little gold man’s rear end, and said something like, “It looks like Oscar’s derriere!” (She was referring to her husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson.) His later wife, Anne Nelson, substantiated this story, and even agreed about the likeness of the buttocks.
So the debate about the origin of “Oscar” goes on. Not too shabby for a little naked knight.