History & Allure of Oscar Awards, Statues to Get a Makeover

The legendary Oscar trophy (awarded to the Academy award winners) is getting a makeover. Here’s a bit on its history, why the statue is getting a face-lift, and why Oscar is Hollywood’s most recognizable leading man.

Face-lifts are nothing new to the entertainment world – be it Bollywood or Hollywood; everyone needs to reinvent their image. And now, its the turn of ‘Oscar’.

Academy of Movement Image Arts and Sciences announced recently that it had dropped Chicago-based producer R.S. Owens, which had been producing the much-coveted awards since 1982, with New York-based Polich Tallix Effective Artwork Foundry.

Few decades back, cinema halls in India did show Hollywood movies, although most of them wouldn’t be recent releases. Fans of Hollywood movies kept a tab on their favorite stars and knew which Hollywood movies would be releasing soon, and how they wish those movies were released in India soon (its a different scenario now with some Hollywood movies releasing in India before its released in the western world.) Hollywood fans in India knew that the Oscar awards were huge and felt proud when Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi won so many Oscar awards.

Significance of the Award

Till date, thousands of Oscar awards have been given out, but there are many more industry folk who wish they had one. Even the Titanic star Leonardo Dicaprio failed to win it for so many years, but finally managed to win one.

To an extent, its difficult to explain allure of this legendary trophy; maybe artists don’t perceive it as just a trophy in the first place.

Indian films Lagaan, Salaam Bombay and Mother India had made it to the final five, in their respective years. However, the closest that came to winning the Oscar was ‘Mother India’.

Fast Facts

  • 1929 – First Academy Awards
  • 1939 – Year Oscar became statue’s official name

Here’s what celebrities and historians have to say about the trophy.

“For the lucky winners, it is the physical manifestation of the blood and sweat and hope and guts it takes to rise to the top of an industry. It is the most recognizable prize in the world—the very symbol of the Academy [of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences] brand,” says Hollywood historian Laurie Jacobson.

“Its brand power comes from concentric circles. Most would say Hollywood cinema is the center of the entertainment world. Well, Oscar is the center of the cinema world. The celebrities we obsess over … obsess over Oscar,” said says Chris Raih, founder and CEO of Zambezi, an L.A.-based communications firm rooted in the entertainment industry.

Why’s he called Oscar?
Several theories float, but the most credible story holds that Academy librarian Margaret Herrick nicknamed the statue after her uncle Oscar, and it stuck. But Bette Davis also claimed to have named the statue, whose bare backside, she said, reminded her of her hsband getting out of the shower.

The Facelift

The statue is 13.5 inches tall, weighs 8.5 pounds, and sports a coat of 24-karat gold.

And although its looked more or less the same since it was first handed out in 1929 (a sword-bearing knight designed by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons), Oscar’s look has changed over the decades. His features have softened while his body went from bronze to plaster (during the WWII metals shortage) to, finally, a tin-based alloy called britannium.

The academy recently announced that it had retained the firm of Polich Tallix to resurrect Gibbons’ original 1920s design and again cast the statues in solid bronze via the lost-wax method.

The process is so painstaking that, despite technological advancements, the New York foundry is able to make only 50 statues in three weeks. And what the cost? Well, only the celebs get to know about it we guess, not for the ordinary people to know that.

But why the face lift?
Many see the move as a significant investment in the award’s heritage. At a time when viewership of awards shows continues to slip, it seems to be a good move to invest in.

After all, such is the aura of the award that it long ago overpowered the name of the event itself.

Says Chris Raih, “We don’t refer to the Tour de France as the ‘Yellow Shirt Cycling Race,’ but we do call the Academy Awards ‘The Oscars.'”