Academy Awards A - Z

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Created as a non-profit organisation in 1927, the original Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was made up of 36 producers and film-makers. Led by MGM studio chief Louis B Mayer, its membership included such notables as Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd and Mary Pickford. It now boasts more than 6,000 members, a quarter of them actors.


The time-honoured practice of opening the golden envelope to reveal the winner's name is a pivotal part of Oscar lore. It has not always been so though. For the first 10 years, the Academy informed the press ahead of time in order to accommodate their print deadlines. After one newspaper broke the embargo in 1939, the decision was made to keep the results a closely guarded secret.


The Oscars have thrown up more than their fair share of fashion faux pas over the years. Who could forget the bizarre Indian headdress sported by Cher in 1986, or Bjork's swan gown in 2001, Gwyneth Paltrow was criticised by fashionistas in 2002 for appearing sans bra in a transparent top, as did Celine Dion in 1999 for wearing what appeared to be a back-to-front white jacket.

In Memorium

A regular feature of each Oscar telecast is a montage paying tribute to those notables who have passed away since the last ceremony. Tony Curtis, Dennis Hopper and Lynn Redgrave are likely to be among those remembered this year. Oscars host Steve Martin mocked the convention in 2003 by introducing some footage of people "you think are dead but aren't."

Los Angeles

The Oscars cause a mighty traffic jam each year as up to 1,200 stretch limousines queue up to disgorge their celebrity cargo. In 1988, the congestion was so bad outside the Shrine Auditorium that presenters and nominees, among them Fatal Attraction's Glenn Close, were forced to ditch their cars and jog down the street to make it on time.


Fancy gatecrashing the awards? Chances are you won't get within 10 metres of the building. Police snipers are routinely positioned on adjacent rooftops, the area is declared a no-fly zone and all the local manhole covers are welded shut. That said, none of this stopped a pair of pranksters getting through in 2002 with the help of a fake limo pass.


How the Academy Award of Merit came by its more familiar sobriquet is still a subject for debate, though most people attribute it to Academy librarian Margaret Herrick's 1931 remark that the award bore a striking resemblance to her uncle. The nickname was in common usage by 1934, but it took another five years for it to be officially adopted.


Part of the host's job is to poke fun at the Oscars themselves. "Two hours of glittering entertainment spread out over four hours" is how Carson described them, while Billy Crystal likened them to Titanic: "We are huge, we are expensive and everyone wants us to go faster." Last year, Steve Martin deadpanned: "This show was so long that Avatar now takes place in the past."


The record for the longest acceptance speech is held by Greer Garson, who droned on for over five minutes in 1943. John Mills probably made the shortest: in keeping with his Oscar-winning role as a mute simpleton in Ryan's Daughter, the British actor said nothing at all. A contender for the most embarrassing must surely be Sally Field's "You really like me!", delivered in 1985.


During World War II, the Academy replaced its gold-plated statuettes with plaster ones and outlawed formal wear, while concerns over the situation in Iraq were reflected by a toned-down ceremony in 2003. "You probably noticed there was no red carpet tonight," said host Steve Martin: "That'll send them a message!"


The number of awards Steven Spielberg received for The Color Purple after being nominated for a whopping 11 Oscars in 1986 - an ignominious achievement only matched by ballet drama The Turning Point in 1978. Richard Harris was nominated seven times without a single win, but the record is held by sound mixer Kevin O'Connell, who has yet to win a Oscar, despite being nominated 20 times.

Source: BBC News