Why is it Called an Oscar: 5 Popular Theories on the Golden Academy Award
With the 88th annual Academy Awards ceremony quickly approaching this Sunday (Feb 28), many film makers and fans alike are awaiting movie’s biggest night with much anticipation. Will host Chris Rock put #OscarsSoWhite on blast? Will Lady Gaga continue her epic journey to an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony)? Will Leo finally get his little statuette??All are valid points of discussion, but one question, no matter the year and nominations, continue to plague viewers and recipients alike – Why do they call it an Oscar in the first place?
The actual statuette – you know the gold guy standing on top of a film reel and holding a sword over his junk – is called an ‘Academy Award of Merit’ and the award show is named the Academy Awards. So it begs the question, who is Oscar and why is he always trying to steal the show?
Here are a few of the most prominent theories to try and explain the mystery.
1. A family Affair
Probably the most popular and widespread theory comes from inside the Academy itself. According to lore, the Academy librarian, Margaret Herrick, observed that the little gold man resembled her uncle Oscar. Apparently, Herrick’s comment made quite the impression and we’ve been referring to her uncle Oscar this whole time. I’m sure he’d be proud. Whether this is true or not, Mrs. Herrick went on to become the executive director of the Academy and made some history making decisions for the awards show, including penning the deal for it to be televised and making it the must see event that it is today. Hence, the Academy honored her by renaming the library she helped establish after her in 1971. So either way, her legacy lives on in Beverly Hills.
2. Was it an insult?
The next theory is a little bit farther from home, and may not have been in favor of the awards period. As the story goes, a New York Daily News writer, Sidney Skolsky, penned the nickname in a 1934 piece covering the 6th annual awards show. Much later, in his autobiography, ‘Don’t Get me Wrong, I Love Hollywood,’ the columnist confessed his initial take on the awards show and it’s Academy was full of pomp, circumstance and “phony dignity,” so he decided to take them all down with a swipe of his typewriter. Inspired by a vaudeville show, Skolsky deemed the gold-plated statuette an ‘Oscar’ based off the comedy act he saw in which an Oscar was the butt of the joke. It didn’t take long for the rest of the world to catch on and soon the dignified statue had a very unglamorous moniker.
3. Mickey Mouse had something to do with it
Now this could just be a case of ‘first-come, first-served’ but Walt Disney may be responsible for more than filling your childhood with magical wonder. The father of Mickey Mouse could be credited for inspiring the now widespread name based off his 1934 acceptance speech for his short film, Three Little Pigs. Apparently, his speech was the first time the nickname was heard and publicly acknowledged. Now, 1934 is also the year Skolsky claimed to pen the name as well. Could he have heard it subconsciously and regurgitated it later? Perhaps. Wouldn’t it be more memorable if Walt had said it first though?
4. Bette only has eyes for Oscar
Another theory from old-school tinseltown comes from one of Hollywood’s oldest stars. Two time Oscar winner Bette Davis staked her claim based on her fame, husband, and his beautiful butt. The All About Eve star declared she was the originator for the famous nickname and it was inspired by how closely the statuette’s behind resembled her husbands bare derriere. Bette said the golden guy resembled her first husband, Harmon Nelson, as he got out of the shower. SO scandalous for the 1930s! Now we aren’t sure if this is the truth, but it’s certainly entertaining. Will you be able to look at Oscar the same way ever again?
5. The Mystery Continues
Last but not least is the cover-all theory that no one really knows the truth! The Academy endorses the Margaret Herrick’s theory on their official website, so that may be the safest option. However, this could just be internal promotion and Skolsky’s subtle dig could be the real story. At this point it’s really anyones guess, but a little mystery never hurt anyone.
Whatever the truth is, the nickname wasn’t acknowledged publicly by the Academy until 1939. Jump to a few years ago, in 2013, when the Academy rebranded the ceremony as ‘The Oscars’ as opposed to cumbersome ‘Annual Academy Awards’ to streamline the name and to attract a younger audience. To be honest nobody cares what you call it, everyone just wants it to run under 2 hours!
To learn more about the prestigious award show and it’s fascinating history, be sure to check out the official Oscar timeline here! And tune in this Sunday, February 28th at 7:30 central on ABC.