Every year since 1929, the Academy Motion Picture Arts and Sciences [wiki], an organization of actors and film professionals, has been giving the Academy Awards [wiki] or popularly known as the Oscars to acknowledge the year's best movies.
Tonight, when you watch the 79th Academy Awards
tonight, remember these fun facts about the Oscars:
The famous golden statuette, formally named the Academy Award of Merit, got its more popular moniker "Oscar" when Academy librarian Margaret Herrick said that it resembled her Uncle Oscar. Before this name stuck, other people had tried to call it "the golden trophy," "the statue of merit," and "the iron man."
Actually, there's another story about how the statuette got its name. When Bette Davis got her first Academy Award in 1936, she remarked how the statuette looked just like her ex-husband, Harmon "Oscar" Nelson, especially its butt!
The Oscar statuette isn't made of gold - it's made from an alloy called Britannia [wiki], which is 93% tin, 5% antimony, and 2% copper. It is only plated with gold.
To conserve metal during World War II, the Oscars were made of plaster. The winners could then exchange them for the shiny statuettes after the war was over.
Until the 1950s, child actors who won the Oscars were given miniature statuettes instead.
When ventriloquist Edgar Bergen [wiki] and his dummy Charlie McCarthy got an honorary Oscar in 1938, he was given a wooden Oscar statuette with a movable mouth.
In 1939, Walt Disney got an honorary Oscar for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - he got one regular full-sized and seven miniature statuettes. Disney also held the record for most Oscar nominations (48), won (22) and honorary given (4).
Saying no to the Oscar
To date (before tonight), 2,622 Oscars were presented to winners. So far, only 3 people have refused the Oscars. George C. Scott who won in 1971 for his portrayal of General Patton, said that the politics surrounding the award was "demeaning" and that the Oscar ceremony was "a two-hour meat parade."
Marlon Brando [wiki], who won in 1972 for his role in The Godfather, also refused his Oscar based on the poor depiction of Native Americans by Hollywood.
The first man to refuse the Oscar, however, was not an actor. In 1935, a writer named Dudley Nichols [wiki] refused it (for The Informer) because at the time, Writers Guild was on strike against the movie studios.
The Winners Agreement
If you won an Oscar, the Academy wouldn't just give it to you - you'd have to sign a winners agreement not to sell the award without first offering to sell it back to the Academy for $1. This makes sure that no award would be sold to private collectors. If you refused, then the Academy would keep the statuette (even after you won the award!)
This, however, doesn't mean that people don't try to sell their Oscars for lots of money. Director Steven Spielberg bought two Oscars (well, technically they were given before the winner's agreement came into being) - a Bette Davis' 1938 Best Actress Award for Jezebel and Clark Gable's 1934 Best Actor Award for It Happened One Night - and gave them back to the Academy.
Need A Replacement Oscar?
The Academy has reissued Oscars for extenuating circumstances. Gene Kelly was reissued one after his original Oscar was burnt down in a fire. Jack Lemmon got a new one after his old one rusted.
Hattie McDaniel [wiki] was the first African-American to receive an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress playing the maid Mammy in Gone with the Winds (1939). When she died, McDaniel willed her Oscar to Howard University, a predominantly black school. Problem was, the Oscar had gone missing during racial unrest on campus in the 1960s. So far, the Academy has refused to reissue the Oscar to the University.
In 2000, 55 Oscar statuettes were stolen en route to the Award show. Fifty two were recovered next to a trash bin and one was found years later in a drug bust but two are still missing. Willie Fulgear, the guy who found and turned in the Oscars, was given $50,000 and two tickets to the show. Ironically, burglars broke into his flat afterwards and stole most of his prize money.
Several Oscar winners had their statuettes stolen: Whoopi Goldberg, William Hurt, and Orson Welles. Margaret O'Brien got her stolen statue back after it went missing for 20 years.
In 1974, Robert Opel [wiki] got backstage by posing as a journalist. When host David Niven was introducing Elizabeth Taylor, Opel ran naked across the stage flashing a peace sign. Niven, ever the quick wit, remarked "Isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?"
Playwright George Bernard Shaw was the only Nobel Laureate (1924 for Literature) who also won an Oscar (1938 for Pygmalion).
The youngest Oscar winner was Shirley Temple when she was only 6 years old (1934 Special Award). Tatum O'Neal was the youngest winner of a competitive Oscar when she won Best Supporting Actress in Paper Moon in 1974. She was 10 years old. The oldest winner of a competitive Oscar was Jessica Tandy, who was 80 years old when she won Best Actress in 1989 for Driving Miss Daisy.
The shortest Oscar-winning performances belong to Anthony Quinn [wiki], who won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Paul Gauguin in Lust for Life (1956), and Judi Dench, who won Best Supporting Actress for playing Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love (1999). They were actually on screen for only 8 minutes each.
Maggie Smith [wiki] is the only actress to ever win an Oscar (for 1978 Best Supporting Actress in California Suite) by playing an Oscar-losing actress!
Midnight Cowboy [wiki] was the only X-rated movie (for graphic sex scene) to ever win the Academy Award for Best Pictures.
After Marisa Tomei [wiki] won Best Supporting Actress in 1992 for her role in the comedy My Cousin Vinny, there was a rumor that presenter Jack Palance had called out the wrong name, and that the error was too embarrassing to correct. This was because Tomei beat out "heavyweights" like Vanessa Redgrave, Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson and Judy Davis. Later, it was revealed that the votes were so split between the more renowned actress that Tomei was able to sneak through, a phenomenon the experts now call "the Marisa Tomei Factor."
It's important to keep your cool when you don't win - When Samuel L. Jackson didn't win Best Supporting Actor for Pulp Fiction in 1995, he was caught on camera muttering the "S" word. We were disappointed that Samel L. Jackson didn't use his signature "M" curse word instead.
Martin Scorsese [wiki] has been nominated 6 times for Best Director without winning a single Oscar. He's actually in good company: other great directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman, Stanley Kubric, and Orson Welles never got competitive Oscars (they won honorary ones). Maybe tonight's the night for Scorsese (The Departed is a favorite to win). [Update 2/25/07: Scorsese won.]
Last but not least, sound technician Kevin O'Connell has earned 19 Oscar nominations over the years for his work on movies like The Rock, Pearl Harbor, and Spider-Man, but has never won, thus making him the biggest Oscar loser. This year, he's up for his work on Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, but said "I'm not really anticipating a win this year." Ironically, by not winning, O'Connell had become somewhat of a celebrity! We're rootin' for you Kevin! [Update 2/25/07: Kevin didn't win. Again. Better luck next year! If Susan Lucci can pull it off, you can too Kevin!]