The Story Of The Oscar Statuette
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Oscar can make your career. He can make other people very envious. He can make people swoon and cry and jump up on top of chairs or prattle on about how surprised they are that people really, really like them.
And while this Oscar sounds like one amazing guy, we of course are talking about a little golden statue. One of the most recognized trophies in the world; it honors the highest achievement in filmmaking. Many will attend Sunday night's Academy Award ceremony, but only a few will take Oscar home.
But why is he called Oscar? For an answer to that question and more, we turn to Bruce Davis. He's the executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Mr. Davis, welcome to the program.
Mr. BRUCE DAVIS (Executive Director, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences): Thank you.
NORRIS: So why is he called Oscar?
Mr. DAVIS: Well, that's one of the most embarrassing questions that people can ask us, because we're actually not sure. We know that the nickname took effect at some point in the 1930s and three claimants have come forward over time claiming to be the person that first hung the nickname on him.
But I've done some research on this and I don't believe any of their stories. Betty Davis was the one who for a long time was given the credit. She used to tell a story that when she received her first Oscar, she turned it around and looked at his largely naked hindquarters and said it reminded her of her then-husband, who did have the middle name Oscar. And she said that she started to calling it Oscar that night and the name caught on.
There's a fatal flaw in that story in that we have several different instances of the word appearing in print prior to the year she won her first Oscar. So, later in life, she kind of grumpily acknowledged that she hadn't really given him the name.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NORRIS: So, what about the design? Where did that pose come from, that stoicism?
Mr. DAVIS: That's actually a kind of a classic of machine-age sculpture. It's a very streamline, moderne kind of sculpture. And he is supposed to be a crusading knight defending the film industry against criticism from outside.
NORRIS: What is...
Mr. DAVIS: We still use that defense sometimes.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NORRIS: What is Oscar made of?
Mr. DAVIS: The main body is britannia alloy, which is essentially a pewter. And then he is dipped five times into various finer metals and electroplated with 24-carat gold on the outside.
NORRIS: You know, when I watch people deliver their remarks after they rush on stage in that moment of bliss, they seem sometimes to be struggling to hold Oscar up. Is he really heavy?
Mr. DAVIS: He's not that heavy. But, yeah, he weighs about eight and half pounds. So if you're not ready for the weight, you do see people kind of go woo when they first take it in their hands. And...
NORRIS: It's like a bowling ball.
Mr. DAVIS: It is - well, yes, a light bowling ball. It's a solid thing. It is not a plastic bowling trophy. It is a real work of art. And yeah, it has gravitas.
NORRIS: Well, Mr. Davis, it has been a pleasure to speak to you. All the best to you. I hope you have an excellent evening on Sunday night.
Mr. DAVIS: Well, thank you very much.
NORRIS: That's Bruce Davis. He's the executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.