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Tuesday, 13 March, 2001, 17:01 GMT
The Oscars' chequered history
Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey
Sam Mendes' American Beauty triumphed last year
The Oscars are the pinnacle of the film awards season, pushing actors and film-makers' profiles skywards as they bask in the media spotlight.

The star-studded ceremony is a glamour-magnet, attracting the glitterati of the film world in droves as part of the part of the spectacle.

But the awards are more than just a pat on the back for the film industry - they are also a marketing dream, with the publicity they generate boosting box office sales and actors' fees.

What we see now, however, is the evolution of a much more lowly affair which began nearly 80 years ago.

Who's won what?
Most awards: Walt Disney (26)
Most nominations: Walt Disney (64)
Most awards in one year: Ben Hur/Titanic (11)
Most nominated actor - Katharine Hepburn/Meryl Streep (12)
Most nominated living person: John Williams (38)
Most foreign film nominations: France (30)
Most foreign film wins: Italy (10)
Youngest Oscar winner: Tatum O'Neal, aged 10
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was set up in 1927 in California as a non-profit corporation, boasting 36 members chosen from film industry notables.

Its aims included advancing the arts and sciences of motion pictures, and fostering educational activities between the professional community and the public.

The first ceremony, in 1929, gave out just 15 statuettes.

But one of the films - The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson as the Jewish Cantor who runs away from home to become a singer - was ruled ineligible.

The board decided it was unfair for a talking picture to compete with silent films, so it received an honorary Oscar instead.

Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin: Honorary award at first ceremony
The outstanding picture prize went to Wings, starring Clara Bow as the woman who captured the hearts of two World War I fighter pilots.

And silent screen star Charlie Chaplin won an honorary award for writing, acting, directing and producing The Circus.

The ceremony was attended by 250 people, who paid $10 (6.80) a ticket.

But it did not go under the full glare of the media until the following year when a Los Angeles radio station did a live, one-hour broadcast.

Walt Disney
Walt Disney has won the most Oscars so far
Since then, the awards have always had broadcast coverage.

There was little suspense over who had won, however, as the winners were already known - newspapers were able to publish the results at 11pm on the night of the awards.

By 1940, the guests arriving for the ceremony could find out who had won what by simply buying the 8.45pm edition of the Los Angeles Times.

This proved too much for the academy - the following year winners were announced only when the sealed envelope was opened on stage.

As for why the Academy Awards became known as Oscars, no one is exactly sure. There is just speculation that an academy librarian and eventual executive director, Margaret Herrick, thought it resembled her Uncle Oscar.

Chloe Sevigny
Chloe Sevigny of Boys Don't Cry typifies Oscars glamour
Rumour has it that a reporter overheard the comments and the word "Oscars" began to filter into the media covering the event.

By 1934, Hollywood journalist Sidney Skolsky used the name in his column, and by 1939 the academy used the nickname in an official capacity.

As interest in the Oscars flourished, so did the number of awards given out.

The US continued to grow in stature as the film-making centre of the world, and the academy was recognised as its official body.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker
While South Park's Matt Stone and Trey Parker do fashion with a twist...
This, coupled with the ceremony's ability to attract the industry's most glamorous celebrities, meant the Oscars became the awards to watch.

By 1953, they were broadcast on TV nationally in the US, with comedian and actor Bob Hope as master of ceremonies, and in 1966 they were first shown in colour.

Things have not always gone as planned, however, with outside events occasionally leading to the big event being rescheduled:

  • 1938 - One week's delay after flooding in Los Angeles
  • 1968 - Two-day delay out of respect for Dr Martin Luther King, who was assassinated a few days earlier
  • 1981 - Postponed for 24 hours due to the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan

This year's awards - the 73rd - will present 23 Oscars and be hosted by comic Steve Martin, and will be beamed across the globe.

Oscar was supposedly named after a librarian's uncle
The academy is now a professional honorary organization composed of more than 6,000 motion picture craftsmen and women who vote for the Oscar winners.

And membership is by invitation only, representing all areas of the industry including actors, directors, music, producers and writers.

It looks like Oscar is well on the way to making his mark on the 21st Century.



In the spotlight

The films

The stars
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