Question: I know the Oscar statuettes are about a foot tall and weigh 8 pounds, but what are they made of, and is it true that they got their name because someone said it looked like their Uncle Oscar? That sounds like a made-up story.


Answer: Last part first: The official story is indeed that Margaret Herrick, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' first librarian in 1931 and its executive director from 1943 to 1971 (and for whom the Academy's Los Angeles library, where I've done my share of research, is named), saw one of the statuettes (designed by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons for the first ceremony in 1929) on a desk and exclaimed that it looked just like her Uncle Oscar. Which is sort of alarming in that it implies that her uncle was a bald nudist with a thing for (perhaps compensatory) swords. Many people prefer the slightly ruder version in which Bette Davis suggested that the statuette's backside looked like that of her then-husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson.

The statuettes themselves are actually 13.5 inches tall and weigh 8 1/2 pounds; according to the Academy, they're made of a metal alloy called britannium and are plated with gold. They were made of plaster during World War II because of a metal shortage (winners were allowed to get regular statuettes after the war ended) and there have been some specialty variations. The Academy made a total of 12 half-size honorary Oscars for child stars Shirley Temple, Deanna Durbin, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Peggy Ann Garner, Claude Jarman Jr., Ivan Jandl, Bobby Driscoll, Jon Whiteley, Vincent Winter and Hayley Mills. The Academy no longer gives special Oscars for children — they either compete against adults, like Tatum O'Neal, who won a best-supporting-actress award for Paper Moon (1973), or they don't get anything. The Academy also came up with a special wooden Oscar for ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (yes, actress Candice Bergen's dad) in honor of his "outstanding comedy creation" — dummy Charlie McCarthy — and in 1938 made a full-size Oscar and seven little ones to honor Walt Disney for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first American feature-length animated film.