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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2007, 09:28 GMT
Quick guide: Academy Awards

Quick guides are concise explanations of topics or issues in the news.

The Academy Awards came into being in 1927 when the newly formed Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) decided to bestow "awards of merit for distinctive achievements".

However, it was not until 16 May 1929 that the first ceremony was held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

The results had been announced three months earlier, so there was little press attention for what many regarded as a minor industry event.

But the awards rapidly grew in stature and significance, influencing the decision to broadcast them on television for the first time in 1953.


Designed by Cedric Gibbons, head of MGM's art department, the statuette depicts a naked knight holding a sword on top of a reel of film.

Oscar statuette
The Oscar is 34.3cm (13.5 inches) tall and weighs 3.85kg (8.5lb)
The reel has five spokes, signifying the five original branches of the academy (producers, directors, actors, technicians and writers).

The award's familiar soubriquet is generally attributed to academy librarian Margaret Herrick's remark that it resembled her uncle, Oscar Pierce.

By 1934 the nickname was in common usage, though it was not officially adopted by the academy until 1939.


When the academy was founded in 1927, it comprised 37 members drawn from the upper echelons of the movie business.

These days, however, there are more than 6,000 members.

Membership is by invitation only and is limited to those who have achieved distinction in the Arts (acting, writing and directing) and Sciences (cinematography, editing and so on).

Every academy member is entitled to vote in their particular area of expertise.


The criteria for Oscar consideration is detailed and complex and depends on rules drawn up by the Academy's individual branches.

Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn won four Oscars and was nominated for eight more
The Film in a Foreign Language nominees, for example, are selected from entries officially submitted by their countries of origin.

One rule of thumb, however, is that all films in contention have to be shown in Los Angeles before 31 December on the preceding year.

In the run-up to Oscar nominations, movie studios draw attention to their movies by sending out DVD "screeners" to Academy members or by running advertisements with the ubiquitous "For Your Consideration" tag.

Winners and losers

The most awards won by any one film is currently 11 - a record shared by Ben-Hur, Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

All About Eve and Titanic hold the record for the most Oscar nominations, having each been shortlisted for 14 awards.

The Turning Point and The Color Purple share the dubious honour of being the films with the most nominations - 11 in all - not to win a single award.

Katharine Hepburn is the most successful star in Oscar history, having won four best actress prizes between 1934 and 1982.


The Academy Awards have not been without moments of contention over the years.

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In 1973, Marlon Brando sent a Native American named Sacheen Littlefeather to refuse his best actor Oscar for The Godfather.

Tom Hanks surprised one Rawley Fansworth in 1994 when he announced before a global TV audience that his former drama teacher was gay.

And the decision to give director Elia Kazan a lifetime achievement award in 1999 prompted protests from members who felt the honour was incompatible with his appearances before the House of Un-American Activities Committee in the early 1950s.


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