When I was a young girl growing up in England in the 1970s and ‘80s, the Oscars seemed to me to be the height of American sophistication and, as my school friends and I naively imagined, must be typical of the social scene in the U.S.
Of course, having now lived in coastal Georgia for five years, I am delighted and relieved to have realized some time ago that the similarities between Oscar night and most American people’s lives are about the same as the British Royal family and John Doe (or Joe Blogs as we refer to this generic and imaginary person in the land of my birth).
It seems surprising to me not only that 2014 is advancing at such a pace that we are less than two weeks away from the 86th annual Oscars but also that my husband and I now seriously consider whether we should watch the awards at all or just read the headlines the next day.
This would have been unthinkable all those years ago when the glamour of watching the Oscars seemed unattainable forbidden fruit. Remember that they were televised very late on a school night (the broadcast time of 7 p.m. Eastern time equates to midnight in the U.K.), so it was only when I left home to go to university that staying up into the small hours on a Sunday night/Monday morning to watch the Oscars (and maybe running a little bit late for class the next day) became a possibility.
According to www.oscars.org, this showbiz institution has only been broadcast internationally since 1969 and was not televised at all until 1953. Color broadcasts didn’t start until 1966, affording home viewers a chance to fully experience the dazzling event and the amazing dresses and jewels from the comfort of their couches. As technology marches forward, Oscar.com is an online companion to the broadcast, and in 2011 Oscar’s second-screen experience won an Emmy Award.
The first awards ceremony for The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was a private event at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in 1929. Only 270 people attended this dinner in the hotel’s Blossom Room and guest tickets cost just $5. There was no suspense as the winners had already been announced three months earlier.
That all changed the following year when the Academy kept the results secret until the ceremony but gave a list in advance to newspapers for publication at 11 p.m. on the night of the Awards. This policy continued until 1940 when, much to the Academy’s surprise and consternation, the Los Angeles Times broke the embargo and published the names of the winners in its evening edition — which was readily available to guests arriving for the ceremony. That prompted the Academy in 1941 to adopt the super-secret, sealed-envelope system still in use today.
As the event grew in size, banquets became impractical and the event moved from banquet room to a theater venue beginning with the 16th Oscar ceremony in 1942, held at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Since 2001, the Oscar ceremony has been held in Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre, just steps from the historic Grauman’s.
The famous Oscar statuette is officially named the “Academy Award of Merit,” weighs 8.5 pounds and is 13.5 inches tall. It is made primarily of britannia metal, a pewter-like alloy which is then plated in copper, nickel silver, and finally 24-karat gold, costing about $900 to make. There have been more than 2,800 of these awarded since 1929 and the design of a knight holding a crusader’s sword, standing on a reel of film was developed by Cedric Gibbons,