In this column last week I basically prayed for rain. (I’m an atheist, but I was desperate.) Now that we’re in the middle of a mini-deluge, I feel like I’m on a roll. Before I buy Powerball tickets, however, I thought I’d write about the 86th Academy Awards, which are this Sunday. (Admittedly, not my smoothest segue.) First, a little Oscar history.
The inaugural Academy Awards took place in 1929 and was actually more of a private dinner. It was held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and about 270 people attended. Tickets were $5 and the ceremony ran for 15 minutes. If you include the red carpet, this Sunday’s show will run six hours, while a 30-second commercial will cost $1.8 to $1.9 million. It will be televised to over 200 countries by ABC, which has carried the shows since 1976 and will through 2020. By the way, even if you have the $1.8 million for a commercial, you’re too late, they’re all sold out.
As part of our city’s illustrious history, Santa Monica was home to the Oscars from 1961-67. In fact, the ‘66 show, hosted by Bob Hope, was the first to be broadcast in color. The Oscars were held at the then glamorous Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. (Sadly, the once glorious Civic is closed while an “advisory group explores options,” whatever that means.)
Built in 1958, the Civic cost $2.9 million. In its heyday, performers included Eric Clapton, Frank Sinatra, Prince, Bob Dylan and the Eagles. Today they say the Civic needs $52 million in repairs. As I think back, one minute it seemed like the Civic was in its glory, the next it was home to the Cat Show. (With all due respect to cat lovers.)
Back to the Academy Awards. One bit of trivia centers on the name Oscar. The popular theory is that the nickname was coined by Academy librarian Margaret Herrick. Supposedly when she first saw the statuette in 1931, she said that it reminded her of her Uncle Oscar. One can only imagine the outcome if her uncle had been named Bernie, Izzy or Murray. “And the Izzy goes to…” just doesn’t have the same ring.
The Oscar is considered the most recognizable trophy in the world. It was designed in 1928 by MGM’s art director, Cedric Gibbons, who came up with a statuette of a knight standing on a reel of film gripping a crusader’s sword. (To me the figure always looked like a violent-prone Mr. Clean.) The film reel features five spokes, signifying the five original branches of the Academy: actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers.
The Oscar statuette is made of Britannia metal, a pewter-like alloy which is then plated in copper, nickel silver, and finally 24-karat gold. Oscar stands 13.5 inches tall and weighs 8.5 pounds. Fortunately, unlike most things in America, it’s not made in China. (Manufactured in Chicago by R.S. Owens & Company.)
Since 1950, Oscar-winners, nor their heirs, may sell the statuettes without first offering them back to the Academy for $1. But in December 2011, Orson Welles’ 1941 Oscar for “Citizen Kane” (Best Original Screenplay) was sold after his heirs won a 2004 court decision contending that Welles didn’t sign any agreement to return the statue to the Academy. So it was that Welles’ Oscar sold in an online auction for $861,542. (Or $861,541 more than the Academy would have paid.)
Amazingly, given the worldwide prestige of winning an Oscar, the number of people who actually vote on the outcome is shockingly small. As of 2012, the Academy had a voting membership of 5,783. Actors constitute the largest voting bloc, numbering 1,311 members, or 22 percent of the Academy’s composition. (97 percent of whom were once waiters. OK, I made that up.)
Starting last year, Oscar voting employed an online system. For viewers, a helpful rule change took place in 2010 when the Academy shortened winners’ acceptance speeches to 45 seconds. (I think Sally Field spent longer than that saying “You like me, right now, you like me,” when she won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in the 1984 “Places in the Heart.”)
Realistically, there’s almost no chance the Oscars will ever return to Santa Monica. In fact, given the Civic’s repair price tag, there’s not much chance the Cat Show will ever return. But Santa Monica still has a rooting interest in this year’s Oscars. Among the Best Picture nominees is “Nebraska,” which received six nominations, including Bruce Dern as Best Actor. The movie also stars Ocean Park’s own, Will Forte, who gave a brilliant performance in a terrific movie.
If you’re going to an Oscar party this Sunday here’s an expression I haven’t had occasion to use in three years: You might want to take an umbrella.
Jack is at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or firstname.lastname@example.org.