Well, I laughed anyway at Billy Crystal’s introductory speech at the 2012 Academy Awards ceremony. And with the Oscars, as they are usually known, handed out just last night (the parties are still going on), let’s see what Westminster Libraries can tell us about the movies.
Well, every library worker’s heart swells with pride at the name of Margaret Herrick, the first librarian of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (its library is now named after her). It was Ms Herrick who, on seeing the statuette, is said to have exclaimed that it looked “just like my Uncle Oscar” and the nickname stuck… though you do have to wonder what life in the Herrick family was like if a statue of a naked man immediately put her in mind of her Uncle.
This is the 85th year of the Oscars – check out some history on the official Oscars site. It took a while for the current tradition of keeping the names of the winners a secret to become established:
“There was little suspense when the awards were presented that night: the recipients had already been announced three months earlier. That all changed the following year, however, when the Academy decided to keep the results secret until the ceremony but gave a list in advance to newspapers for publication at 11 p.m. on the night of the Awards. This policy continued until 1940 when, much to the Academy’s consternation, the Los Angeles Times broke the embargo and published the names of the winners in its evening edition – which was readily available to guests arriving for the ceremony. That prompted the Academy in 1941 to adopt the sealed-envelope system still in use today.”
The first Brit to receive an Oscar was Charlie Chaplin who received a special award for “versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus”. There have been many more since and you can find a list of some of them in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (linked from the Biography section of the Westminster Libraries Gateway to Websites – log on with your Westminster library card). From the ODNB homepage, go to Themes and then Arts and Culture for a list of Oscar winners, including Vivien Leigh, twice Best Actress winner (Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire) who lived at 54 Eaton Place and Peter Ustinov, Best Supporting Actor winner for both Spartacus and Topkapi.
For more cinema history, why not pay a visit to Westminster Reference Library’s Performing Arts section where they have a large collection of books and journals related to cinema going back to the silent era. Or you could check out our extensive online newspaper collections for some contemporary accounts of past Oscar ceremonies (The Times doesn’t seem to have noticed them until 1934 when Charles Laughton won an Oscar for his performance in The Private Life of Henry VIII).
Check out the Stage and Screen section of the Gateway for links to film sites. The daddy of them all is the Internet Movie Database – using the Advanced Search, you can find out that 22 Oscar winning actors were born in London – how many can you name? And check out the British Pathe site (linked from the History section) for newsreel footage of Oscar ceremonies going right back to 1935.
Sadly, once again the Treasure Hunt Towers invitation to the Vanity Fair Oscar Party was lost in the post so we had to make do with watching on telly and gnashing our teeth as Daniel Day-Lewis over-acted his way to another gong. But it did mean that we had a chance to research some Oscar history during the ad breaks…