This Sunday the 94th Academy Awards will take place - but how did the did the iconic little gold men earn the name ‘Oscar?’
The origins of the nickname are uncertain, but the most popular story is that when Margaret Herrick – an Academy librarian who went on to become the Executive Director – first saw the golden statuettes in 1931, she said they reminded her of her Uncle Oscar. Journalist Sidney Skolsky, who was present when she said this, went on to write in his New York Daily News column that ‘Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette “Oscar.”’ It quickly stuck, although it took until 1939 for the Academy to officially adopt the name.
Skolsky, however, went on to claim it was in fact he who coined the famous name, writing in his 1975 memoir Don’t Get Me Wrong, I Love Hollywood that he called the statue Oscar in a 1934 news piece as a way of mocking the Academy, in reference to an old-fashioned vaudeville joke that goes ‘Will you have a cigar, Oscar?’
Confused yet? Us too. As Skolsky put it in his memoir:
‘It was my first Academy Awards night when I gave the gold statuette a name. I wasn’t trying to make it legitimate. The snobbery of that particular Academy Award annoyed me. I wanted to make the golden statuette human.’
‘I’d give it a name. A name that would erase their phony dignity […] I remembered the vaudeville shows I’d seen. The comedians having fun with the orchestra leader in the pit would say, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” The orchestra leader reached for it; the comedians backed away, making a comical remark. The audience laughed at Oscar. I started hitting the keys…’
‘During the next years of columns, whenever referring to the Academy Award, I used the word “Oscar.” In a few years, Oscar was the accepted name. It proved to be the magic name.’
As if that wasn’t baffling enough, it seems that there are a handful of other claimants to Oscar naming glory. According to some reports, Walt Disney referred to his little gold man as ‘the Oscar’ in his acceptance speech for Three Little Pigs in 1934 – the same year that Skolsky supposedly coined his nickname.
Then there’s the case of Bette Davis, who was convinced she was the ‘Oscars’ originator. Speaking in 1955, she said:
‘I am convinced that I was the first to give the statuette its name when I received one for my performance in Dangerous, made in 1955.’
‘I was married at that time to Harmon O. Nelson Jr. For a long time I did not know what his middle name was. I found out one day that it was Oscar, and it seemed a very suitable nickname for the Academy statuette.’
However unclear the origins may be, the nickname certainly stuck.