“He looks just like my Uncle Oscar!” So said Margaret Herrick, the Executive Secretary of the Academy in 1931 when she first laid eyes on the famous statuette. Fortuitously, columnist Sidney Skolsky was within earshot. He memorialized the comment by including it in his byline, and the moniker “stuck.”
To be sure, that sourcing is not universally accepted. For example, according to one of Bette Davis’ biographies, she named the statuette after her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson. However, the Herrick story sounds like the more plausible one, so I am going with it. In any event, the Academy adopted the name officially in 1939.
The Academy Awards, aka the “Oscars,” is hosted annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The winners of AAs are selected by the Academy’s membership. It is the oldest and most prestigious of the awards. This year’s awards, the 92nd, will be presented on Sunday, February 9 at the Dolby Theatre in LA. The awards have been televised since 1953. ABC has televised them since 1960.
For the second straight year there will be no host. Why? Well, despite declining ratings, the powers that be at ABC have determined that last year’s “hostless” format was such a success they have decided to continue the practice.
Personally, I preferred having a celebrity host. In my view, the best ones were Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal, each of which hosted several times. To me, they added humor and spice to the proceedings. In my view, the Awards have fallen victim to the “new normal.” Cutting edge humor is out; dull and boring is in. God forbid the host should offend anyone or anything. You may recall that last year Kevin Hart was supposed to be the host, but he ran afoul of the twitter PC Police, and he got the “boot.” Yes, his tweets were somewhat controversial, but they were several years old, and he did apologize. But, that was not good enough for the PC Police, so he had to go. Welcome to modern, progressive America, where one is penalized for what he did or said years ago. Best to monitor your kids’ tweets and Facebook entries verrrry carefully.
The “In Memoriam” segment was introduced in 1993. It is one of my favorite segments. It is always very poignant, and I expect this year will be no exception.
For me, the biggest drawback to the show is its length and pace. It’s supposed to be three hours, but good luck with that. The 2002 show was the worst, lasting 4 hours and 23 minutes, but who’s counting. DVR, anyone?
Some little-known facts about the AAs:
1. The initial AAs were presented in 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel before an audience of approximately 270 persons. This year, by contrast, it is anticipated that the awards will be televised and streamed live to some 30 million people in some 225 countries around the globe. Impressive numbers? Perhaps, but the estimated audience pales beside the 57 million who viewed the awards in 1998. As has been customary, they will be preceded by a elaborate ceremony, which will feature celebrities parading before their fans, the media, and a television audience on the “Red Carpet.” Some people actually prefer the “Red Carpet” to the show, itself.
2. In 1929 the award winners, 15 in all, were disclosed to the media three months ahead of time. For a few years, beginning in 1930, the winners were disclosed the night before. Since 1941, however, the identities of the winners have been sealed in envelopes and guarded like the proverbial “crown jewels” until they are disclosed, with much fanfare, at the ceremony.
3. Since 1950 the ownership of the statuettes has not been unencumbered. Legally, neither the winners nor their heirs are free to sell them on the open market without first offering them back to the Academy for $1. Although they are gold plated and only cost about $500 each to manufacture, their value on the open market would be substantial. For example, a few years ago, a pre-1950 statuette sold via on-line auction for $861,542.
4. The voting membership of the academy is not very diverse. It is overwhelmingly Caucasian, male, and elderly. More on that later.
5. In order to be eligible for the Best Picture Award, a film must be a minimum of 40 minutes long, must have opened in LA County by December 31 of the previous year, and must have played there for seven consecutive days.
6. Other than Best Picture, only the members of each branch vote for the nominees in that category. For example, only directors nominate candidates for Best Director. The entire membership votes for the winners, as well as for Best Picture.
7. For many years, the awards were presented in late March or early April. Beginning in 2004, however, they were moved up to late February or early March. Now, they are presented in early February. The reasons for this were (1) to shorten the intense lobbying and advertising campaigns of the Oscar season, which had become excessive, (2) to avoid competing with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in mid and late March, which has grown very popular, (3) to avoid conflicting with the major religious holidays of Easter and Passover, and (4) to take maximum advantage of February being a “sweeps” month.
8. From time to time, some critics have accused the Academy of bias, for example:
a. Favoritism toward romantic dramas, historical epics, family melodramas, and historical biographies (“Shakespeare in Love,” “Chariots of Fire,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” and “Annie Hall”) at the expense of action films or sports films. Often, these so-called “Oscar-bait” movies have won at the expense of more popular and enduring films such as “Star Wars,” “Goodfellas,” “Hoosiers” and “Raging Bull.” I have long felt that there has, at times, been a disconnect between the preferences of the Academy voters and the general audience. For example, this year’s favorite, “The Joker,” grossed about $334,000, far behind “Avengers’ Endgame” at $858,000.
b. Sentiment has, sometimes, led to awards for popular entertainers or those who have been denied in the past. Also, some awards have been given more for a distinguished career than for the most recent individual performance. One notable example was John Wayne winning for his performance in “True Grit” in 1969. Wayne had been one of the most popular performers for three decades, but he had never won an Oscar.
c. Every so often, charges of racial bias have plagued the Academy. For example, a few years ago, some critics decried the absence of nominations such as “Straight ‘Outta’ Compton” for Best Picture and Will Smith for Best Actor in “Concussion.”
This year some have criticized the “lack of diversity” among the nominees. The noted best-selling author, Stephen King, who has strong liberal credentials, was nevertheless roundly criticized for defending the slate of nominees as quality over diversity.
These aforementioned critics have cited the composition of the voting membership, as noted above, as being the primary cause. I’m not so sure. Through the years there have occasionally been curious snubs, such as Eddie Murphy being passed over (in favor of Alan Arkin) for his superb performance in “Dreamgirls.” I did not see “Compton,” so I can’t comment on that. Smith’s performance was worthy of a nomination (although, which nominee would he have replaced?). However, I don’t believe those omissions are cause for protests and boycotts. I agree with King. Furthermore, I am definitely not in favor of a quota for nominations of minorities and women as has been suggested. As long as the nominations and Oscar voting are subjective, there will always be some that are overlooked. Our society is too PC as it is. Part of life is dealing with disappointments.
9. I recall a few puzzling choices for Best Picture in past years, cases in which the winning picture was soon forgotten and an also-ran or two became a classic or at least substantially more popular or memorable. For example:
a. 1977 – “Annie Hall” beat “Star Wars.” Unless you’re a big Woody Allen fan chances are you don’t remember “Annie Hall.” “Star Wars” was a mega-hit and spawned several sequels as well as ancillaries such as toys and games.
b. 1941 – “How Green Was My Valley” beat “Citizen Kane.” “Valley” has been long forgotten, and “Kane” is on many “short lists” of the best movies ever.
c. 1990 – “Dances with Wolves” beat “Goodfellas.” I saw “Dances.” It was a nice movie, but “Goodfellas” is a classic gangster film with an all-star cast (DeNiro, Pesce, Liotta) and is on tv frequently.
d. 1940 – “Rebecca” beat “The Grapes of Wrath,” a powerful drama about the Depression-era California migrant workers starring Henry Fonda, among others.
e. 1998- “Shakespeare in Love” beat “Saving Private Ryan.” “Shakespeare” was soon forgotten (and, perhaps, Harvey Weinstein exerted some undue influence on the voting) and is now no more than the answer to a trivia question, whereas “Ryan” was a classic WWII movie with an all-star cast headed by Tom Hanks and Matt Damon). Who can ever forget the classic D-Day landing scene?
f. 1946 – “The Best Years of Our Lives,” which few recall and is never on tv, beat “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which is a Christmas classic starring Jimmy Stewart and which is on tv annually.
I could go on. In fact, I could write an entire blog on just this sub-topic, but you get the idea.
A brief quiz, call it a “quizette:”
1. Who has won the most Academy Awards?
2. Only three movies have swept the much coveted awards for best picture, director, writer, best actor and best actress. Can you name them?
3. Who was the youngest actor/actress to win?
4. Who was the oldest?
5. Three movies hold the record for most Oscars with 11. Can you name them?
6. Which actor/actress has won the most AAs? Has the most nominations?
7. Can you name the Best Picture winners for the last two years?
See answers below.
I know you are all anxiously awaiting my predictions, so here they are:
Best Picture – “Joker”
Best Actor – Joaquin Phoenix – “Joker”
Best Actress – Renee Zellweger – “Judy”
Supporting Actor – Al Pacino – “The Irishman”
Supporting Actress – Margot Robbie – “Bombshell”
What are yours?
Enjoy the awards show as well as the “Red Carpet,” although I strongly recommend using a DVR to get through the many “dead spots.”
1. Walt Disney – 22
2. “It Happened One Night” (1935); “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1976); “Silence of the Lambs” (1992).
3. Tatum O’Neal (10) in “Paper Moon”
4. Jessica Tandy (81) in “Driving Miss Daisy”
5. “Ben-Hur” (1959), “Titanic” (1997), “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” (2003)
6. Most acting Oscars – Katherine Hepburn – 4; most nominations – Jack Nicholson – 12
7. 2018 – “The Shape of Water”; 2019 – “Green Book”