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9 strange facts about the Oscars you didn’t know

The Academy Awards ceremony has been held since 1929, with the ceremony broadcast via radio for the first time in 1930. In 1953, the event was first televised and has been ever since. As the oldest of the major annual entertainment awards in America, the Academy Awards are a huge production. It’s not just about the honor of being nominated — earning an Academy Award can be career-changing.

You might think you know everything there is to know about the Oscars, but as you gear up for the 2024 Academy Awards, here are lesser-known interesting facts about its origins, past, and how things run behind the scenes that you’ll find fascinating.

Need more Oscar recommendations? Check out how to watch the 2024 Oscars for free, 2024 Oscar predictions, 10 biggest Oscar snubs ever, 10 best Oscar-winning movies ever, 10 most Oscar-nominated movies ever, and 5 great Oscar-winning movies on Amazon Prime Video.

PricewaterhouseCoopers handles envelopes because of a broken embargo

Tom Hanks holding an envelope at the Academy Awards.
Michael Yada / A.M.P.A.S.

It seems antiquated that a big awards ceremony would rely on paper envelopes to reveal winners. You might think this is because of the excitement when the presenter cracks open the seal to read the name. This might be part of it, but that’s not entirely the reason. According to Time, the reason PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) began distributing the results through paper envelopes was because of a broken embargo. Back in 1941, a news outlet reportedly published the names of all the Oscar winners prior to the ceremony happening. Naturally, this ruined the surprise for both the audience, as well as the nominees. Everyone found out in the most anticlimactic way who won (or lost).

It’s worth noting as well that Price Waterhouse, as it was known at the time, was hired by the Academy a few years prior to handle the vote counting as well. This was to address any accusations of foul play by internal Academy vote counters that were mainly fueled by controversy around Bette Davis not being nominated for her performance in Of Human Bondage in 1935.

Winners can’t sell their Oscar statues

Olivia Colman 2019 Oscars Acceptance Speech
Getty

Even after winning an Academy Award, the Oscar statue technically isn’t the winner’s property to do with as they please. Before taking it home, they have to sign a contract agreeing they will not sell or otherwise get rid of it. The only option is to offer to sell it back to the Academy for $1, according to CNBC. This rule also extends to the winners’ families and estate once the person dies. The stipulation, in place since 1951, is meant to “preserve the integrity of the Oscar symbol.”

Anyone hoping to find a signed Academy Award on eBay to purchase as memorabilia should know that it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever come across an authentic one. Most winners would never want to part with it anyway, given that the statue is a sign of career prestige. Earning an Academy Award raises your stock and opens the door to bigger projects and potentially higher pay. Plus, it looks great on a mantle.

One actor did manage to sell his Oscar

A black and white image of Harold Russell in a scene from The Best Years of Our Lives standing beside a woman.
RKO Radio Pictures

There is one actor who sold his Oscar statue. That’s because Harold Russell won for Best Supporting Actor for The Best Years of Our Lives back in 1947, prior to the stipulation being in place. He sold the award 45 years later when he needed money for his wife’s mounting medical expenses, according to The New York Times.

Interestingly, he was also the first nonprofessional actor to win an Academy Award for acting. As a World War II veteran who lost both his hands, he was cast in this role because it mirrored his real-life story in many ways. He is also the only person to ever win two Oscars for the same performance since he also won a special honorary Oscar for that role for “bringing aid and comfort to disabled veterans through the medium of motion pictures.”

The 2000 Oscars was the most chaotic ceremony ever

Four actors standing in a row posing with their Academy Awards at the 2000 ceremonies.
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Everyone was so concerned about the supposed Y2K reset when the calendar flipped from 1999 to 2000, but nothing happened. Nonetheless, it seems the Academy Awards ceremony that year was cursed. A total of 55 statues were stolen from a loading dock prior to the ceremonies taking place. The factory that makes them worked around the clock to make another batch and have them shipped in time. The missing statues were later recovered near a garbage bin. The junk scavenger who found them was awarded $50,000 and two seats to attend the event. Two of the statues, however, are still missing to this day. As if that wasn’t enough, thousands of voting ballots were also lost in the mail.

Although the incident was dubbed “the Infamous 2000 Oscar Heist” by The Hollywood Reporter, the Academy later said that the statues are always made a year in advance, so the stolen statues would not have impacted the ceremonies since those ones were meant for the following year. But the Academy also makes sure to have extras on hand in case of a shortfall. It also confirmed that the recovered statues were destroyed so every Oscar winner received a freshly made one. After this debacle, every shipment of Oscar statues is now sent by plane, accompanied by armed guards.

The 2017 Best Picture mix-up happened because of a distracted accountant

Warren Beatty holding the Academy Award Best Picture card to face the audience, Jimmy Kimmel standing beside him.
ABC

Remember when Faye Dunaway read La La Land as the Best Picture winner at the 2017 event when Moonlight, in fact, was the winner? Her co-presenter Warren Beatty swore up and down that he was given the wrong envelope. He was correct, and the reason this mix-up happened was because the man who was supposed to hand the correct envelope to Beatty was apparently distracted by his phone.

Variety obtained behind-the-scenes footage of Brian Cullinan, the accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, showing him focused on his phone at the same time the envelopes were supposed to be handed out. He posted a tweet about Emma Stone winning Best Actress around the same time Beatty and Faye Dunaway walked on the stage. That tweet was supposedly later deleted.

Interestingly, this wasn’t the first time this type of mix-up happened, though the first time had nothing to do with smartphone distractions. Sammy Davis Jr. was also given the wrong envelope back in 1964, but the person he named as the winner hadn’t even been nominated, so the error was swiftly discovered and corrected.

Rolling out the red carpet

The outside of the Oscars showing people milling about and the red carpet.
BDS2006 (talk) / Wikimedia Commons

The red carpet defines the Academy Awards. It’s the one all the actors, producers, directors, and others walk along to enter the building. Of course, they first stop to take glamorous photos and do interviews with the awaiting media as cameras flash. That red carpet is a significant part of the ceremony, and it’s surprisingly not as easy to set up as simply “rolling out the red carpet.”

According to Classic FM, the carpet runs 500-feet long to cover the perimeter of the Kodak Theatre (at least where filming is taking place). The organizers must roll it out several days ahead of time, and keep it covered with plastic to protect it from the elements until the big reveal. Removing the plastic happens a few hours before the night kicks off. It’s an arduous, but important and often overlooked part of the setup job.

Nominated in seven consecutive decades

John Williams composing in a side profile on a dark background.
Jamie Trueblood / Lucasfilm Ltd.

The most nominated actor is Meryl Streep who has a total of 21. Katharine Hepburn still holds the record for the most wins at four, with Streep and Jack Nicholson tied for second with three apiece. And there are a lot of milestone moments from the Oscars you are likely familiar with, from Kathryn Bigelow being the first woman to win Best Director and Hattie McDaniel being the first Black actor to win an Oscar in 1940 to Parasite becoming the first foreign language film to win Best Picture and Tatum O’Neal being the youngest winner at just 10 years old. But one you might not know is that John Williams is the only person in Academy Awards history to be nominated in seven consecutive decadess.

Williams isn’t an actor, but rather a music composer. He has a total of 54 Academy Award nominations. Starting with his first nomination in 1968 for Best Scoring of Music – Adaptation or Treatment for Valley of the Dolls to his most recent for Best Original Score for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny in 2024, Williams has also been nominated in every decade in between. If that weren’t enough of an accomplishment, he is also the oldest person ever to be nominated at 92. Williams has won a total of five Academy Awards during his illustrious career to date.

Speech time limits were set because of a 6-minute speech

Greet Garson reading a book in a black and white scene from the movie Mrs. Miniver
Loew's Inc.

It’s understandable that the Academy plays off winner speeches with music at a specific time. Otherwise, some speeches could go on and on. It’s important to keep the event, and its broadcast, within the specified time. Not surprisingly, before this rule was added, someone did indeed ramble for quite some time, delivering a full-on monologue as her acceptance speech.

In 1943, actor Greet Garson delivered a speech that spanned at least six minutes while accepting the Best Actress Award for Mrs. Miniver. Not long after that, the speech time limit was set to 45 seconds to keep the evening flowing nicely.

The statue’s name isn’t actually Oscar

The Oscar statue on a black background.
Albert Watson / A.M.P.A.S.

While everyone calls the gold statue an Oscar, that isn’t technically the name for the big prize. It’s actually called the Academy Award of Merit. There are many theories as how it came to be called Oscar, but no one knows the true story.

One theory is that a librarian, who later became the executive director for the Academy, called it this because she believed it resembled her uncle, whose name, of course, was Oscar. The name, or rather nickname, became official in 1939 and people continue to call it an Oscar to this day. The Academy Awards are often referred to as The Oscars.