What You Didn't Know About The Oscar Statue: It is Mexican, oh Yeah!


by Mónica Belén Hernández Bennettz

There is probably no more famous awards show in the world than the Academy Awards. Its first edition was held in 1929, in a space that accommodated only  270 people.  The cost of each entry ticket was 5 dollars on that occasion, 15 statuettes were awarded. Since those days, the event has changed dramatically. is broadcast by all possible media and has reached more than 40 million viewers from around the world.   There are 24 categories plus some special awards. It is undoubtedly the most awaited award by any film professional; many of them have said receiving the statuette is the culmination of a lifetime of work. Who developed this tiny 34 cm (13.18 inches) and 3.85 kgm (8.49 pounds) weight? That marvelous man who shows his sober and well-turned musculature, holding like a knight errantly swords on a roll of 5-spoke film symbolizing the original branches of The Academy: actors, writers, directors, producers, and technicians. Who was the model? I assure you that it is far from bald. You will be surprised.

1923, Los Angeles, California, an imposing sign on Mount Lee loomed Hollywood land welcoming friends and strangers.  in 1949, that sign would become the mythical HOLLYWOOD. It is precisely during the decade of the 1920s, there was a thriving Mexican community of actors.  This community highlighted the beautiful actress Dolores del Río, born in Durango.  At that time, she was the  future wife of the art director of the Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer, Cedris Gibbons. Both were the couple of the moment; they appeared in all the newspapers and magazines.   They represented royalty and the glamor of the thriving 7th art.  They were the BRATJELINA of the 1920s and 1930s. It was then that on a napkin, sitting in a cafe, Gibbons began to shape the statuette at the request of the members of the newly created Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (1927); that piece of paper was given to the sculptor George Stanley.  He requested a real model to sculpt.  It was then that Dolores del Río proposed to her friend and Mexican compatriot Emilio El Indio Fernández.

Emilio had migrated to the United States because of the political persecution he suffered at that time. He was a descendant of a very famous Mexican General of the revolutionary army and a beautiful indigenous Kakapú woman. He had an enviable physical build and a rather particular face, abundant hair and beard. Dolores met him at his home in Santa Monica; after a couple of shots of tequila, he asked him to pose for the statuette.  Emilio  was not convinced to do so; he wanted to learn to direct cinema, and being a model was not part of his plans. "Come on Emilio! It is only once and you will be immortal "said Dolores," “My dear, I will be immortal for the right reasons and not for this. " Even so, the actress convinced El Indio. What he did not know is that he should pose nude for the sculptor, an activity that he did not like at all. Still, he did. Emilio would return to Mexico in the 1930s, and would become, along with the extraordinary Luis Buñuel, one of the most recognized Spanish-speaking film directors.   He directed Mexican divas, such as Dolores del Río and María Félix, and was the one who gave Marilyn Monroe the furniture in her bedroom during her last visit to Mexico. Emilio El Indio Fernández achieved his mission.  He is remembered for the right reasons: his masterful direction and films from the so-called Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. You cannot miss María Candelaria, Enamorada, Salón México, among many others.

This beautiful piece saw the light in 1929.  To date, more than 3000 statuettes have been delivered, and this April 25th, delivery number 93 will take place. Throughout its almost 100 years, it has not undergone modifications.  At first, it was of solid bronze with a gold finish. Between 1942 and 1944, at the time of the 2nd World War, they were made of plaster. After the war, they began to make the statuette from  britannium, a metal alloy formed by copper, tin and antimuonium regulus, which is then plated with 24-karat gold. They have not always carried a serial number on the base; they began to be numbered in 1949, starting with the number 501. It takes 12 people to make a piece. It is said that it owes its name to the occurrence of the actress Margaret Herrick who, when she saw him, laughed out loud saying, “He is as bald as my Uncle Oscar!” However, this name was not used until 1939, after the story of Uncle Oscar was popularized in 1934.  Before that, it was simply called the Award of Film Merit awarded by the Academy ... a bit long, right? Mexicans have had 83 nominations and 25 victories. The first Mexican to win an Oscar was Anthony Queen in 1952, repeating in 1956, and what about Alfonso Cuarón 2013 and 2018? Alejandro González Iñárritu in 2014 and 2015 and Memo del Toro in 2017 won the Best Director awards.

I am sure that holding the statuette of the Mexican model is the dream of acting students, directors, scriptwriters, technicians, etc., from all over the world. I imagine them filming their films, rehearsing their thank you speeches, imagining at times the emotion of hearing their name when the host says: AND THE OSCAR GOES TO…

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