12 Surprising Facts About the Oscars

by Valerie Kalfrin on January 21, 2020

A new class of Oscar nominees joins the thousands the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has honored since 1929—with more than 3,100 shiny golden statuettes.

The Irishman, Uncut Gems, Pain and Glory, Parasite, Hustlers, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Marriage Story, Us, The Lighthouse and The Farewell have already collected several critics’ and association awards. Will Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood bring Quentin Tarantino another Oscar win? Will Little Women gift Greta Gerwig with her first Oscar as a screenwriter? 

While we hedge our bets on how February’s Academy Awards ceremony winds up, let’s explore some of the finer points about the film industry’s starriest—and sometimes wildest—night. Remember the streaker who sprinted behind actor David Niven during 1974’s ceremony, leaving Niven to ad-lib about “showing off his shortcomings”? Or 2017’s historic upset when the indie drama Moonlight took home the Best Picture award over La La Land … after an envelope mix-up saw the latter film’s producers saying their thanks for about two minutes before discovering the error?

“Even in my dreams, this could not be true,” Moonlight’s stunned director Barry Jenkins said once the La La Land producers called him to the stage. “But to hell with dreams, I’m done with it. Because this is true.”

Incidentally, why not feed your own Oscar writing dreams through the 7th Annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship? Recipients receive a trip to Los Angeles for meetings, mentorship, and personal introductions to producers, literary managers and agents, and entertainment studio executives, along with ongoing professional support. 2020 industry manager mentors include Brillstein Entertainment Partners, which represents Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz; Untitled Entertainment, which represents Oscar-winners Penelope Cruz and Jared Leto; and MXN Entertainment, which represents Oscar-winner Diablo Cody.

Here are some other truths that wowed us about the Academy Awards. 

  1. Reportedly nicknamed “Oscar” because Academy librarian Margaret Herrick thought the statue resembled her uncle Oscar, the trophy actually depicts a knight standing on a reel of film and gripping a crusader’s sword.
  2. The Oscar statuette is only plated in 24-karat gold. It’s made of solid bronze, weighs 8.5 pounds, and stands 13.5 inches tall—a hefty memento compared to the painted plaster figures awarded during World War II because of war’s metal shortage. (After the war ended, recipients could redeem the plaster figures for gold-plated ones.)
  3. Winners are supposed to keep their speeches to 45 seconds since Greer Garson won the Best Actress award for Mrs. Miniver in 1943. The ceremony had stretched until 1 a.m. when she received the last Oscar of the ceremony and spoke for five minutes.
  4. The Oscar winner with the shortest speech by far is Patty Duke, who upon receiving the Best Supporting Actress award in 1963 for The Miracle Worker simply said, “Thank you.” (Joe Pesci, winning Best Supporting Actor for Goodfellas in 1991, and director Alfred Hitchcock, receiving the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1968, also believe in brevity, delivering their thanks in five words each.)
  5. The longest Academy Awards broadcast so far was in 2002, clocking in at 4 hours, 23 minutes. A Beautiful Mind took home the Oscar for Best Picture. 
  6. The youngest Oscar winner is Tatum O’Neal, who took home Best Supporting Actress honors for 1973’s Paper Moon at age ten. (Anna Paquin, who won the same award for The Piano in 1994 at age 11, is the second youngest.)
  7. The oldest Oscar winner in a competitive category is James Ivory, who at 89 received the 2018 Best Adapted Screenplay award for Call Me by Your Name. There were other notable octogenarians that year, though, with Christopher Plummer, 88 at the time, becoming the oldest acting Oscar nominee for All the Money in the World and director Agnès Varda, eight days older than Ivory, nominated for Best Documentary Feature for Faces Places. (Varda took home an honorary reward for her cinematic career regardless.)
  8. To date, six Oscar wins have actually been ties: Best Sound Editing (2013), Best Live Action Short Film (1995), Best Documentary Feature (1987), Best Documentary Short (1950), and two acting awards. The Academy in 1932 honored as Best Actor both Fredric March in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Wallace Beery in The Champ, and in 1969 named two people Best Actress: Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter and Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl. (Hepburn didn’t attend that night, leading to Streisand’s famous quip upon being handed her award: “Hello, gorgeous.”)
  9. Since the awards began, only five women have been nominated as Best Director, the first in 1977 (Lina Wertmüller, Seven Beauties) and the most recent in 2018 (Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird). The only one to win is Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2010.
  10. Only one X-rated film has won the Best Picture Oscar: 1969’s Midnight Cowboy.
  11. Only two sequels have won Best Picture: 1974’s The Godfather Part II and 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
  12. The Oscar ceremony has never been canceled, but it’s been put off three times. Flooding in 1938 bumped the ceremony by a week; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968 postponed it for two days; and an assassination attempt on then-President Ronald Reagan in 1981 delayed it for 24 hours.

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Valerie Kalfrin is an award-winning crime journalist turned essayist, film critic, screenwriter, and emerging script consultant. She writes for The Hollywood Reporter, CC2K, Script magazine, The Guardian, Film Racket, Bright Wall/Dark Room, ScreenCraft and other outlets. A member of Screenwriters of Tomorrow and the Tampa Bay Film Society, she’s available for story consultation, script editing, coverage, and collaboration. Find her at or on Twitter @valeriekalfrin.

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