It is well-known that Oscars are awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It is a professional honorary organization composed of over 6,000 motion picture artists and craftsmen and women. The Academy was organized in May, 1927, as a nonprofit corporation chartered under the laws of California.
A popular story has been that an Academy librarian and eventual executive director, Margaret Herrick, thought the statuette resembled her Uncle Oscar and said so, and that as a result the Academy staff began referring to it as Oscar. No hard evidence exists to support that tale, but in any case, by the sixth Awards Presentation in 1934, Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky used the name in his column in reference to Katharine Hepburn’s first Best Actress win. The Academy itself didn’t use the nickname officially until 1939.
The Oscar is a tin and copper statuette of a naked man holding a sword and standing on a reel of film. The award weighs 8 1/2 pounds and is plated with gold. Since the list of winners is kept secret until the telecast, the awards handed out on television are blanks. The Academy reclaims the statuettes the morning after the telecast and has them engraved before they are shipped back to the anxious recipients. The personalized engraving is on a small plaque attached to the pedestal on which Oscar stands. The engraving includes the year, the award category and the name of the recipient. Each statuette is also engraved with a serial number on the back of its base.
Since its conception, the Oscar statuette has met exacting uniform standards – with a few notable exceptions. In the 1930s, juvenile players received miniature replicas of the statuette; ventriloquist Edgar Bergen was presented with a wooden statuette with a moveable mouth; and Walt Disney was honored with one full-size and seven miniature statuettes on behalf of his animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Between 1942 and 1944, in support of the war effort, Oscars were made of plaster. After the War, winners turned in the temporary awards for golden Oscar statuettes.
Watching the Oscar telecast has become the equivalent of a secular religious experience for many. The Oscars occur every year at the same time and there are strict rules and regulations and hundreds of commandments. The Oscar itself has become a sacred icon within the industry.