Oscar, the golden statuette coveted by Hollywood

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 28 2014 08:58 PM | Updated as of Mar 01 2014 05:07 AM

An Oscar statuette is displayed at the "Meet the Oscars" exhibit at Grand Central Station in New York in this February 23, 2011 file photo.REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/Files

HOLLYWOOD - He stands only 13.5 inches (34 centimeters) tall and weighs just 8.5 pounds (3.85 kilos) -- but Oscar, in all his bald gold-plated glory, is the holy grail of Hollywood.

The iconic statuette was created in 1929, two years after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, by the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studios, Louis Mayer.

The idea came from MGM's artistic director, Cedric Gibbons, and it was a Los Angeles artist, George Stanley, who sculpted the first statuette of a knight standing on a reel of film gripping a crusader's sword.

Although there are only 24 categories at Sunday's ceremony, the Academy always has more made just in case of multiple recipients -- notably for producers, who receive the Oscar for best picture.

Engraved on the base of each Oscar is the statuette's individual serial number, together with a plaque telling the owner that it cannot be sold, given or transferred to anyone else without having been offered to the Academy.

The Academy has the right to buy them back for $10, and won a legal battle in 2008 with Mary Pickford's heirs, who wanted to sell the prestigious award.

In 1993, the Oscar won in 1945 by Joan Crawford for her role in "Mildred Pierce" was sold at auction for $68,500, and in December 2011, Orson Welles's statuette for iconic movie "Citizen Kane" sold for $861,000.

Initially the little figures were made of gold-plated solid bronze, but that was abandoned after a few years for britannia metal, a pewter-like alloy which is then plated in copper, nickel silver, and finally, 24-karat gold.

Due to a metal shortage in World War II, Oscars were made of painted plaster for three years -- recipients were invited to redeem their statuettes for gold-plated ones after the war.

They have been made since 1982 by Chicago company R.S. Owens, and cost about $18,000 each.

The obvious question: where does the name come from?

They are officially called Academy Awards of Merit, but the story goes that Academy librarian (and eventual executive director) Margaret Herrick remarked that it resembled her Uncle Oscar.

The Academy did not adopt the nickname officially until 1939, but it was widely known enough by 1934 that Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky used it in referring to Katharine Hepburn's first best actress win.

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