Saturday, February 27, 2010

All Things Oscar

With the Academy Awards upon us next Sunday,  I thought conduct a quick history lesson on Oscar, perhaps the most coveted award next to the Pulitzer or Nobel Peace Prize (depending on who you ask!)

He was born in l928 at the hands of celebrated MGM art director Cedric Gibbons, one of the 36 founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (Lore has it Gibbons sketched the design on a notepad during a meeting). Gibbons was nominated a record 39 times and won eleven for his outstanding work in art direction. Since the first Awards ceremony in l929, 2,071 have been awarded to date.

The dashing Cedric Gibbons (left)

Legend also has it that Oscar is named after AMPAS librarian Margaret Herrick's uncle Oscar (who remarked on the resemblance after seeing the statue and the name stuck). He stands 13 1/2" tall and weighs 8 1/2 pounds and fifty statues take up to 3-4 weeks to manufacture. Officially known as the Academy Award of Merit, Oscar is actually a  knight standing on a reel of film with five spokes at the base -- each one representing a branch of the Academy (actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers).

The most recognized, coveted, speculated and dreamed about award resides in some pretty interesting places. For some, Oscar is placed proudly on the library or home office shelf (Sidney Poitier, James Stewart, Cecil B. De Mille, John Wayne and George Clooney)  while others honor his presence in the most unlikely of spaces -- the bathroom (Kate Winslet) or a suit closet (Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful award).

James Stewart's Oscars on display in a library niche

Cecil B. Demille's home office houses
his award for The Greatest Show on Earth

John Wayne called this space his "50 Years of Hard Work Wall"

Sidney Poitier's awards reside on the top shelves of his built -in bookcases. His office
was designed by his wife, interior designer Joanna Poiter of JSP Interiors

Winslet quoted "The statue is going in the toilet, next to (husband) Sam's (Mendes)"

Kevin Costner had a specially designed shelf for his Dances With Wolves Oscar. "I used to have my Oscar in my underwear drawer for three or four years until I built the scrrening room. Now they are in a specially designed shelf unit." Barbra Streisand reportedly houses her award in a barn (custom built for her memorabilia collection) at her Malibu ranch).

The little gold man has even found himself orphaned in a pawn shop or given away (father /daughter Jon Voight and Angelina Jolie passed the awards on to their mothers) while Julia Robert's sister became the lucky recipient of her award for Erin Brockovich.

At least the Oscar winners didn't turn their statues into lamps. One day I hope to have a pair to use as bookends (which will of course be after I win the lottery, become Mrs. George Clooney, find a cure for cancer and discover the meaning of life):)

For all things Oscar, take a look at 80 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards by Robert Osborne (you know him from Turner Classic Movies) and my friend Jim Piazza (truly one of the wittiest people I know) and Gail Kinn's book The Academy Awards: The Complete Unofficial History (Black Dog). Both are available on Amazon.

The Oscars will be telecast on Sunday, March 7th at 8:00 PM CST on ABC.

Photo Credits: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Cathy Whitlock, Architectural Digest


  1. Great post Cathy. It's good to be reminded of Oscar's history. And there are SO MANY stories to tell...

    The statuettes themselves are manufactured here in the Chicago area.

    Here's a link to a very brief article about a current exhibit on Michigan Avenue.

    I would love to hear you handicap the winners!

  2. I knew that they were manufactured in Chicago and have been for years. I think the winners will all be very predictable and follow the golden Globes with one surprise usually thrown in!

  3. The Oscar statuettes have also become valuable collector items - depending on their age and what they they were awarded for. Since 1951, signed agreements with the awardee give the Academy right to purchase the statuette back from any heirs that may no longer want them. This has sometimes resulted in lawsuits. Older Oscars have sometimes gone to auction, and depending on the film or the actor, have fetched six figures or more. Perhaps a drawer or the bathroom isn't the best place to keep them.

  4. I love the Oscars on TV. I sit in bed - its on late where I live and have a champers and shout at the TV "OH for gods sake - Get OFF!!" I really think they need to have a trap door in the floor and when they start to get toooo long in the "thankyou " speech department - boom!
    Next! LOL

    * I would kill for Sidney Poitier's beautiful room!!!

  5. If you would like to see the rest of the Poiter house, check out my piece for Traditional Home. Happy Oscar Week!

  6. Hi Nice blog about latest movie trend
    Since the advent of the moving picture, America has surely had a fascination with Hollywood and movie stars. This is most clearly seen in the high value of celebrity and movie memorabilia.