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10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Oscars

Oscars
Pascal Le Segretain, Getty Images/Jemal Countess, Getty Images/YouTube

With Oscars season upon us, it’s anyone’s guess who will take home the gold. Each year, some newcomers crash the party among veteran actors who command the red carpet at the Academy Awards. The annual event draws Hollywood’s biggest stars, and millions more around the world. The press always puts together some basic information about this year’s nominees, but how much do you actually know about the Oscars ceremony? Here’s a list of fun facts and trivia you can use to impress your friends this awards season.

Why’s it called Oscar?

Nobody knows for sure. The most commonly cited origin dates back to actress Bette Davis, who said that the backside of the statuette looked like her first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson. According to another theory, the name came from Academy secretary Margaret Herrick who claimed it looked like her Uncle Oscar. However it came to be, the Oscar officially got its name in 1939, 10 years after the annual ceremony began. The official name of the Oscar is the Academy Award of Merit.

What are the statues made of?

Originally, they were gold-plated solid bronze. Then they moved over to Britannia metal, a pewter-like alloy that was then covered with copper, nickel silver, and 24-carat gold. But when WWII hit, and a metal shortage followed, the Academy had to make do with what materials they had available. So they resorted to painted plaster for three years. After the war ended, recipients were invited to exchange the plaster awards for gold-plated metal ones. Fun fact: Oscar statuette weighs 8 1/2 pounds and is 13 1/2 inches tall. (Watch a video on the making of an Oscar below.)

Hardly anyone attended the first Academy Awards

With what the awards have turned into today, it’s hard to imagine Hollywood’s humble beginnings. But that was the case for the first Academy Awards in May 1929, which was a small dinner held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel for 270 guests. It cost $5 a head, and the guests dined on broiled chicken.

First Oscars
Oscars.org

There have only been a few sweeps of the top categories

‘Hugo’ leads this year’s Best Picture crop with 11 nominations, but only three films in the history of the awards have ever won all five of the top categories (Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Actress in a Leading Role, Directing, Writing). They are: ‘It Happened One Night’ (1934), ’One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975) and ‘Silence of the Lambs’ (1991). 37 other films have been nominated in all of the “Big Five” categories, but have fallen short of ultimate Oscars glory.

Anthony Hopkins
Vince Bucci, Getty Images

A sound mixer is the biggest loser in Oscars history

Sound mixer Kevin O’Connell has 20 nominations yet still no wins, making him “the unluckiest nominee in the history of the Academy Awards,” according to The Guardian. Basically O’Connell is the Susan Lucci of the Oscars, with nods spanning from ‘Terms of Endearment’ to ’Transformers.’ “If I ever did get an opportunity to make a speech, one of the things I’d say is to all you nominees, don’t consider yourselves losers. You guys are winners and don’t let anyone tell you differently,” he told Entertainment Weekly. O’Connell can take solace in his recognition from the Academy in other ways — he sits on the Board of Governors, representing the sound branch. (Watch an interview with O’Connell below.)

A toothbrush is Billy Crystal’s good luck charm

Expect this year’s host Billy Crystal to be armed with a toothbrush in his tuxedo pocket, but not because of a fear of bad breath. As a kid, Crystal would pretend to make an Oscar speech using his toothbrush as a microphone, and each of the eight times he’s taken the stage as the show’s host, he’s brought along his toothbrush to help ease his nerves.

Selling Oscar trophies is forbidden

Fame is fleeting, and so are Oscars apparently. Many celebrities have given their Oscars way or lost them over the years. But according to Moviefone, they can’t hock them at the pawn shop — the Academy banned the sale of the statuettes in 1950. Heirs to the statuettes must, according to the established rule, sell the trophies back to the Academy for $1. Pre-1950 Academy Awards have sold for millions.

Oscars
Jemal Countess, Getty Images

Someone streaked the Oscars

During the 1974 Academy Awards, while actor David Niven was calling up Elizabeth Taylor to present the Oscar for Best Picture, a streaker emerged from the back of the stage and interrupted the festivities. Niven ad-libbed, ”Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen. But isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?” The streaker was Robert Opel, a photographer and art gallery owner who had snuck backstage posing as a journalist. You can thank him for the delay imposed on the televised broadcast. Watch the famous moment below.

Marlon Brando turned down an award

When Marlon Brando won Best Actor in a Leading Role for ‘The Godfather’ in 1972, he declined to accept the award and instead sent Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather to represent him on the stage. Littlefeather explained that Brando didn’t appreciate the way that Native Americans were portrayed in the movies. While some didn’t like Brando’s political statement, others believe that Brando’s stand helped improve the treatment of Native Americans in Hollywood. The Academy subsequently banned the use of proxies to speak on anyone’s behalf at the ceremony.

Oscar wins raise the divorce rate

A recent study found that women who were nominated for Best Actress were more likely to get divorced sometime after their Academy Award nods. Many recent winners – including Kate Winslet, Reese Witherspoon, and Sandra Bullock – feel prey to the curse. (See a recent list of actresses here.) “Winning an Oscar can be construed as a big jump in professional status that an actor or actress has in their world and in the eyes of the broader audience…You are never the same after you’ve secured an Oscar for Best actor or Best Actress,” explained one of the scientists.

Sandra Bullock Jesse James
Pascal Le Segretain, Getty Images

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