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Academy Awards have long, rich history

Marty Schroeder | Wednesday, February 21, 2007

This year marks the 79th time the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will gather together to hand out the Academy Award of Merit – the iconic statuette given for Academy Awards, or Oscars.

This night of glitz and glam has its share of history and interesting trivia. For example, the 1941 Orson Welles epic that has come to be known as one of the greatest films ever made, “Citizen Kane,” only won one Oscar – and for Best Screenplay at that. It lost out on the Best Motion Picture Oscar to a little-known film directed by John Ford – “How Green Was My Valley.”

Needless to say, the Academy doesn’t get it right every time, but its awards have come to be known as the apex of achievement for those involved in the motion picture industry.

But what about the star of the ceremony himself – Oscar himself? Where does he come from, and why has he been dubbed Oscar?

The sword wielding art-deco crusader was designed by Cedric Gibbons, sculpted in clay by George Stanley and then cast in tin and copper and plated in gold by Alex Smith. This is the chronicle of his birth and he has changed little except for the base of the statuette, which has been streamlined in recent years.

His name is something more of a mystery. Some claim Bette Davis named Oscar after her husband Harmon Oscar Nelson. Others say that the Academy’s Executive Secretary, Margaret Herrick, after seeing the statue in 1931, said it reminded her of her uncle Oscar.

Whatever the actual story, the golden knight standing on the reel of film is one of the most highly prized awards in the entertainment industry.

Though Oscar himself stands in golden perfection, the awards ceremony – and the voting of the Academy members – is far from perfect. Many times the Academy voters have made decisions that seems correct at the time but do not seem right years down the road – like choosing “Shakespeare in Love” over “Saving Private Ryan” in 1998.

Some of the more infamous gaffes have come in recent years. The 1992 award for Best Supporting Actress went to Marisa Tomei for her role in “My Cousin Vinny.” Urban legend claims that presenter Jack Palance actually read the wrong name because Tomei was considered a long shot against the other four nominees.

Whatever the case, this example shows that not everyone is a lock, no matter what what the critics and so-called experts say.

Another incident involving acceptance speeches occurred in 2000 when Julia Roberts won her Best Actress Oscar for her role in “Erin Brockovich.” When she got up to the microphone she seemed to thank everyone and their dog – forgetting, however, the real-life Erin Brockovich. This snub will go down as a lesson to anyone composing an acceptance speech.

The Academy Awards are not quite the perfect dream that many budding actors and filmmakers might expect. In fact, there are a lot of politics and a lot of commercialism involved. Some movie studios push their films harder than others to get votes, which ultimately equals dollar signs (such as the infamous over-saturating market strategy known as the “Miramax Machine”).

What can be counted on, however, is a night equally exciting for those obsessed with celebrity gossip and fashion as for those that just love movies … despite the occasional gaffe in etiquette.

After all, nothing said “the classiest night on Earth” like playing the theme from “The Terminator” right after cinematographer Robert Richardson dedicated his Oscar for “The Aviator” to his recently deceased mother.