What Are The Academy Awards and Why Do All Actors Want An Oscar?

by Mysterious Q

Every time the Academy Award Nominees are announced each January the press and the public go absolutely crazy. Even if the world was about to end, the big news would be all about the Oscars if the Apocalypse had the misfortune to occur in January. The fun begins after the Nominees start reacting to their good fortune and gets even better when the winners are announced during the Awards telecast in February.

Some say they don't care. Others claim their fellow Nominees are more deserving. The long-winded among the Hollywood Elite like to thank everyone from their kindergarten teacher on up to their favorite pet. After the list of people, pets and things to thank started to get too long, the Award Powers That Be began the custom of playing music to let the winners know that enough is enough. Then there are the funnies, weirdos and bizarre happenings.

When Roberto Benigni won the Oscar for his work in Life Is Beautiful (released in 1997), he climbed over seats, hopped up to the stage like a rabbit and proceeded to give Sofia Loren a very tight hug (lucky guy!). When Marlon Brando won the Oscar for The Godfather during the 1973 ceremonies, he had a Native American woman named Sacheen Littlefeather walk up to the platform and refuse the award for him in protest of...well...I just don't recall. I mean, everyone was protesting something back in those daze.

Nick Nolte recently reacted to an Oscar Nomination for his work in the film Warrior by proclaiming that he was too old to call anyone about it because all his friends were dead! He was also concerned about not having a tuxedo to wear or a date to accompany him to the Awards. My all-time favorite bizarre Oscar happening was when a naked man streaked across the stage while actor David Niven was speaking. Niven gave everyone a good laugh by referring to the man's 'shortcomings."

Where did this whole Oscar thing start? It began with the creation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) in the 1920s. The idea was the brainchild of MGM studio mega-boss Louis B. Mayer. The first Oscars were given out at a private luncheon on May 16, 1929 at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood with about three hundred people in attendance and guest tickets costing just five dollars.

The Academy used to announce who won the awards some three months before the actual AMPAS event in the days before television. That practice stopped in 1930 with the winners being announced the night before the ceremonies. That tradition ended in 1941 because newspapers often published the results in the next day's paper before the actual awards event. I guess the AMPAS big wigs finally saw the advantage that creating excited anticipation had when it came to bringing attention to the Oscars.

Now they use those sealed envelopes so that you have to watch the Academy Awards broadcast to see who won. Because people cared more about who won than watching the winners try and find words to express whatever thanks and pallettes of wisdom they felt like expressing, the awards declined in the ratings for a while. Things like airing the red carpet arrivals of the stars, big musical numbers, various showy events and good hosts have helped bring back viewers.

AMPAS presents a whole pile of awards. Some are yearly, others less often, but the Oscar is the biggie. It's a gold-plated statue that may be the world's most recognizable award. It was designed by Cedric Gibbons, an MGM Art Director. Nobody is exactly sure how the name 'Oscar' came about to describe this AMPAS award. Some say that Bette Davis named it after her first husband. Others claim it was named by Margaret Herrick, the AMPAS Executive Secretary. In 1931 she said the statuette reminded her of an Uncle she had named Oscar.

Regardless of how the award came to be called Oscar, that designation was made official in 1939 by AMPAS. Although world famous, poor Oscar has had to go through some hard times. Because some winners or their relatives have tried to sell the coveted statuette, AMPAS created a rule that has been in affect since 1950. Winners have to agree not to sell (or allow to be sold) their Oscar. If they do not agree to this rule, AMPAS holds on to their award for safe keeping.

AMPAS membership is by invitation only and invitations to join must come from the Board of Governors. Actors constitute the most members, but AMPAS has a bunch of membership categories for people that work in various parts of the movie industry. The members are the ones that vote for the winners. The ballots go out in late December to the almost six thousand AMPAS members.

AMPAS gives out awards at various ceremonies, but the major ones are presented to the winners during a live telecast in February of each year. The Academy Awards used to be aired in March or April, but fear of competition from basketball championship games made them move the date up to February. The awards show was first telecast by NBC in 1953. Since then they have been telecast by either NBC or ABC. AMPAS claims that these award shows have, at times, attracted close to a billion viewers worldwide.

The Academy Awards have continued to evolve throughout the years. Various awards have been re-named and more categories have been added. Remembrance segments now honor those film industry movers and shakers which passed away over the previous year. The awards were moved from Monday night to Sunday night in 1999 to help ease the burden they place on rush-hour traffic in L.A. and Hollywood. This also gave West Coast viewers a better chance to watch the awards live. They begin at 5:30 p.m. (pacific time).

I still occasionally tune into watch the Academy Awards, but it takes a strong stomach to deal with all the 'thank you' speeches and I am not always up to that. Like many other potential viewers, my decision to watch often relies upon who is hosting the event. Choosing a host for the Awards has become vital to a particular broadcast's success. Trying to watch David Letterman host them a few years ago was painful. Others have done a much better job including the invariably funny Billy Crystal. He usually gets it right.

Despite their polite objections, most actors know the value of an Oscar and want one badly. Winning an Oscar can mean big bucks for struggling films, big employment for struggling actors or even bigger bucks for already popular players. Over the past two decades it almost seems as if those two factors have weighed heavily on the minds of the AMPAS powers responsible for the awards. They always seem to nominate films that hardly anyone has heard of or actors in need of a career boost. That isn't always the case, but there does seem to be a trend in those directions.

If one thing about the Academy Awards frustrates me more than anything else, it is watching films that have done well and entertained people all over the world get ignored during Oscar time. I have nothing against small, independent or art house films, but let's face it: It's the big films that make the big bucks and keep the public coming back to theaters. With ticket sales on the decline, this is something that AMPAS might want to think about when they decide on nominations.

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