15 Memorable Oscar Firsts

Christopher Polk, Getty Images
Christopher Polk, Getty Images

For more than 90 years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has awarded excellence on the big screen. Over the decades, there have been a lot of "first"s (and some "first and only"s) as the Academy Awards have grown and evolved. Here are 15 of them.

1. First Black Artist To Win An Oscar: Hattie McDaniel

Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind (1939)
Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind (1939)
Warner Home Video

In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to be nominated for an Oscar—then the first African American artist to win an Oscar—when she took home the Best Supporting Actress statuette for her work in Gone with the Wind. Nearly a quarter-century later, in 1964, Sidney Poitier became the first African American to win a Best Actor Academy Award for playing Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field.

2. First Actor To Refuse An Oscar: George C. Scott

A publicity still of actor George C. Scott
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

In 1971, George C. Scott refused both the nomination and eventual win for Best Actor in Patton. Scott sent the Academy a telegram saying that he refused to accept the nomination because he disliked the voting process and felt that competing against his fellow actors was artistically wrong. When his name was announced as the winner, Scott was asleep at home with his family in upstate New York. When asked about refusing the Academy Award a few days after the ceremony, Scott replied that he had "no feeling about it one way or another."

3. First Person To Present Him/Herself With An Oscar: Norma Shearer

circa 1930: Norma Shearer (1900 - 1983), the Canadian born actress who starred in silent films and then talkies such as 'Private Lives'.
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

During the third Academy Awards in 1931, Norma Shearer was the presenter for the Best Actress category. Shearer was nominated for two Oscars in the Best Actress category that year, and she won the award for her role in The Divorcee (which she had to announce, rather awkwardly). It was the last time a nominated actor presented an Oscar for his or her own category.

4. First Color Movie To Win A Best Picture Oscar: Gone With The Wind

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
Warner Home Video

In 1938, A Star Is Born became the first all-color movie to receive a Best Picture nomination. Two years later, Gone with the Wind became the first color movie to win the award. It took a long time for Hollywood to fully embrace the technology; it wasn't until 1956 that all five Best Picture nominees were color movies.

5. First Person Named Oscar To Win An Oscar: Oscar Hammerstein

American librettist Oscar Hammerstein II
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Composer Oscar Hammerstein II was the first person named "Oscar" to win an Oscar. Hammerstein won two Academy Awards throughout his career, one for the song "The Last Time I Saw Paris" from Lady Be Good in 1942 and another for "It Might As Well Be Spring" from State Fair in 1946.

6. First Televised Awards Ceremony: The 25th Academy Awards

October 1961: American movie icon Bob Hope (1903 - 2003) arrives at a social function wearing a jacket and bow tie
Fox Photos/Getty Images

The first Oscar ceremony to be televised was the 25th Academy Awards back in 1953. The event was simulcast in black and white from both the RKO Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, with Bob Hope as host, and the NBC International Theatre, with Fredric March, in New York City.

In 1966, the Academy Awards ceremony was broadcast in color for the first time on ABC.

7. First X-Rated Movie To Win A Best Picture Oscar: Midnight Cowboy

Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight pose in a still from the film 'Midnight Cowboy' June 15, 1968 in the USA
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The first and only X-rated movie to win Best Picture was Midnight Cowboy in 1970. In 1972, A Clockwork Orange was the last X-rated movie to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. In 1990, the MPAA moved away from the "X" rating because of its association with pornographic films and instead introduced the "NC-17" rating for movies with graphic sex and violence.

8. First Sequel To Be Named Best Picture: The Godfather: Part II

Al Pacino in The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Paramount Pictures

In 1975, The Godfather: Part II became the first sequel to win an Oscar for Best Picture, two years after the original won the same award. The Silence of the Lambs and The Return of the King would follow The Godfather: Part II as sequels that also won Best Picture Oscars.

9. First Woman To Win A Best Picture Oscar: Julia Phillips

 The Oscar statuette is displayed on the red carpet during the 88th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 28, 2016 in Hollywood, California
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

In 1974, Julia Phillips accepted the Oscar for Best Picture for The Sting, alongside Tony Bill and her then-husband/producing partner, Michael Phillips. The film's success paved the way for Julia and Michael to make Taxi Driver just two years later; in 1977, they earned another Best Picture nomination for the dark Martin Scorsese classic.

10. First Woman To Be Named Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow

 Director Kathryn Bigelow accepts Best Director award for 'The Hurt Locker' onstage during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on March 7, 2010 in Hollywood, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

In 2010, after 82 years of Academy Awards, Kathryn Bigelow was the first female filmmaker to win the Best Director Oscar. She won for directing The Hurt Locker, which also ended up winning Best Picture.

Only four other women have been nominated for Best Director Oscars: Italian director Lina Wertmüller was nominated for Seven Beauties in 1977, Jane Campion was nominated for The Piano in 1993, Sofia Coppola was nominated for Lost in Translation in 2004, and Greta Gerwig was nominated for Lady Bird in 2018.

11. First Best Picture Nominee To Be Released On Home Video Before The Oscars Ceremony: The Silence Of The Lambs

 Actor Anthony Hopkins accepts the Scream Legend award onstage during Spike TV's 2008 Scream awards held at the Greek Theater on October 18, 2008 in Los Angeles, California
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

The Silence of the Lambs was the first Best Picture nominee to be released on home video (VHS and laserdisc) before the start of the awards ceremony. The movie was released in theaters on February 14, 1991 and on VHS on October 24, about four months before the Oscars telecast in 1992. It was also the first horror film to win Best Picture.

12. First Animated Film To Earn A Best Picture Nomination: Beauty And The Beast

Robby Benson and Paige O'Hara in Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Walt Disney Productions

Although it didn’t win the award, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) was the first animated movie to receive a nomination for Best Picture. Since then, Pixar's Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010) have also received Best Picture nominations. In 2001, the Academy introduced a Best Animated Feature Film category.

13. First Actor To Receive Two Nominations For The Same Role: Barry Fitzgerald

Barry Fitzgerald (1888 - 1966) (left) holds his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor while American actor Bing Crosby (1904 - 1977) holds his Oscar for Best Actor, both for their roles in 'Going My Way,' Academy Awards, Los Angeles, California, March 15, 1945.
Barry Fitzgerald (left) holds his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor while Bing Crosby holds his Oscar for Best Actor, both for their roles in 'Going My Way' (1944).
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1945, Barry Fitzgerald became the first and only actor to ever be nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for the same role, for playing Father Fitzgibbon in Going My Way (he ended up winning the latter). AMPAS later changed the rules and guidelines for acting nominations, so that a double nomination couldn’t happen again.

14. First Actor To Win A Posthumous Award: Peter Finch

August 1958: British actor Peter Finch (1916 - 1977) at Pinewood Studios, for the filming of the Michael McCarthy picture 'Operation Amsterdam
Howell Evans/BIPs/Getty Images

Peter Finch was the first actor to win an Academy Award posthumously. He received the Best Actor Oscar in 1977 for his electrifying performance as TV anchor Howard Beale in Network. Finch died of a heart attack on January 14, 1977, less than three months before the ceremony.

15. First 3D film(s) To Earn Best Picture Nominations: Avatar And Up

Sam Worthington in Avatar (2009)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Though the 3D format has been around since 1915, it took until 2010 for the first stereoscopic film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. And it was a big year for the format, as it wasn't just one 3D film that earned the Oscars' top nod—there were two of them: James Cameron's Avatar and Pete Docter and Bob Peterson's Up (ultimately, both films lost to Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker).

An earlier version of this article ran in 2017.

Why Are the Academy Awards Statuettes Called Oscars?

Getty Images
Getty Images

In 2013, the Academy Awards were officially rebranded as simply The Oscars, after the famed statuette that winners receive. "We're rebranding it," Oscar show co-producer Neil Meron told The Wrap at the time. "We're not calling it 'the 85th annual Academy Awards,' which keeps it mired somewhat in a musty way. It's called 'The Oscars.'" But how did the statuette get that nickname in the first place?

The popular theory is that the nickname for the Academy Award of Merit (as the statuette is officially known) was coined by Academy Award librarian and future Director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Margaret Herrick. The story goes that when Herrick first saw the statue in 1931, she said that it looked like her Uncle Oscar. According to Emanuel Levy, author of All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards, columnist Sidney Skolsky was there when Herrick said this and would later write that, “Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette ‘Oscar.’”

While the first documented use of “Oscar” as the nickname for the statuette was made by Skolsky—in a 1934 New York Daily News article—there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Skolsky was actually responsible for the above quote. Skolsky, in his 1975 memoir Don’t Get Me Wrong, I Love Hollywood, claimed he first used the nickname referencing a classic vaudeville joke line, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” in an attempt to mock the Academy Awards:

"It was my first Academy Awards night when I gave the gold statuette a name. I wasn’t trying to make it legitimate. The snobbery of that particular Academy Award annoyed me. I wanted to make the gold statuette human. ... It was twelve thirty when I finally arrived at the Western Union office on Wilcox to write and file my story. I had listened to Academy, industry, and acceptance talk since seven thirty ... There I was with my notes, a typewriter, blank paper, and that Chandler feeling.

You know how people can rub you the wrong way. The word was a crowd of people. I’d show them, acting so high and mighty about their prize. I’d give it a name. A name that would erase their phony dignity. I needed the magic name fast. But fast! I remembered the vaudeville shows I’d seen. The comedians having fun with the orchestra leader in the pit would say, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” The orchestra leader reached for it; the comedians backed away, making a comical remark. The audience laughed at Oscar. I started hitting the keys ...

“THE ACADEMY awards met with the approval of Hollywood, there being practically no dissension … The Academy went out of its way to make the results honest and announced that balloting would continue until 8:00 o’clock of the banquet evening … Then many players arrive late and demanded the right to vote … So voting continued until 10 o’clock or for two hours after the ballot boxes were supposed to be closed … It was King Vidor who said: “This year the election is on the level” … Which caused every one to comment about the other years … Although Katharine Hepburn wasn’t present to receive her Oscar, her constant companion and the gal she resides with in Hollywood, Laura Harding, was there to hear Hepburn get a round of applause for a change…”

During the next year of columns, whenever referring to the Academy Award, I used the word 'Oscar.' In a few years, Oscar was the accepted name. It proved to be the magic name."

"Mouse's Return," a September 11, 1939 article in TIME magazine, seems to back up Skolsky’s above claim, stating:

"This week Sidney Skolsky joined the growing stable of writers that Publisher George Backer is assembling for his New York Post. Hollywood thought Publisher Backer had picked the right horse, for Skolsky is one of the ablest columnists in the business (he originated the term “Oscar” for Academy Awards) and by far the most popular …"

Though Skolsky has actual evidence to back his claim, his assertion that he coined the nickname is still slightly in doubt. Many claim that during Walt Disney’s Academy Award acceptance speech for Three Little Pigs in 1934—the same year Skolsky first covered the Awards—Disney referred to the statuette his little "Oscar," which was supposedly an already well-established nickname for it within the industry. The term Oscar was commonly used as a mocking nickname for the Academy Award (as Skolsky claims he used it), but in this theory, Walt Disney was supposedly the first in the industry to publicly use the name in a positive light.

Perhaps Herrick really did think the statuette resembled her uncle. Or maybe Skolsky really did come up with the moniker (whether he did or not, he certainly helped popularize it). In the end, nobody really knows why the Academy Award statuette is called an Oscar.

The idea for the design of the Academy Award statuette was thought up by MGM director Cedric Gibbons. His idea was to have a knight gripping a sword while standing on a film reel. Sculptor George Stanley was then hired to create the actual statuette based on this design idea. The first Academy Awards ceremony was held on May 16, 1929 in the Blossom Room of Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel. The nickname Oscar wasn’t officially adopted for the statuette by the Academy until 1939.

Incidentally, the Academy states that the five spokes on the film reel the knight is standing on signify the original five branches of the Academy: writers, directors, actors, producers, and technicians.

Daven Hiskey runs the wildly popular interesting fact website Today I Found Out. To subscribe to his “Daily Knowledge” newsletter, click here.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article originally appeared in 2013.

11 Dothraki Words and Phrases Every Game of Thrones Fan Should Know

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

You know the words khal and khaleesi, but consider working these other words and phrases from the Dothraki language—which was created by linguist David J. Peterson, and featured in Living Language Dothraki—into your vocabulary before the final season of Game of Thrones premieres on April 14, 2019.

1. M’athchomaroon!

The Dothraki way of saying hi, this word—which can also be shortened to M’ach! or M’ath!—translates to “With respect.” To say hello to a group of non-Dothrakis, you would use the phrase Athchomar chomakea, which literally translates to “Respect to those that are respectful.” Fonas chek, which translates to "hunt well," is one way to say goodbye.

2. San athchomari yeraan!

Peterson writes that the Dothraki have no word for “thank you.” Instead, use this phrase, which literally translates to “a lot of honor to you!” but basically means “much respect!”

3. Fichas jahakes moon!

These are Dothraki fighting words, meant to encourage the warriors in their khalasar (or Dothraki group). This phrase means “get him!” but literally translates to “Take his braid”—which makes sense, since Dothrakis cut off their braids after a defeat. A Dothraki who wins a lot of battles is a lajak haj, or “strong warrior.”

4. And 5. Yer shekh ma shieraki anni and Yer jalan atthirari anni

Jason Momoa and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Both of these phrases—the first said by a male, the second by a female—mean “you are my loved one,” but they literally translate to phrases well-known to Game of Thrones fans: “You are my sun and stars” and “You are the moon of my life.” As Peterson notes, “these expressions come from Dothraki mythology, in which the sun is the husband of the moon.”

6. Anha dothrak adakhataan

Peterson writes that “as a result of the importance of horses to Dothraki culture, there are many idiomatic expressions related to horses and riding.” This phrase is best used before a meal: It means “I’m about to eat,” and literally translates to “I ride to eating.” If you were Dothraki, you’d likely be eating fresh horsemeat (gavat) and drinking mare’s milk (lamekh ohazho, which is often just shortened to lamekh).

7. Hrazef

This is Dothraki for horse, and there are many other words relating to horses in the language. A good one to know is the word for the great stallion, a.k.a., “the deity worshipped by the Dothraki”: vezhof.

8. Addrivat

Joseph Naufahu, Tamer Hassan, Emilia Clarke, Elie Haddad, Darius Dar Khan, and Diogo Sales in Game of Thrones
HBO

If there’s one thing the Dothraki are very good at, it’s killing, and they have multiple words for the deed. This is a verb meaning “to kill,” and literally translates to “to make something dead.” Both Ds are pronounced. It’s used, according to Peterson, “when the killer is a sentient being.” (Drozhat is used when a person is killed by an animal or an inanimate object, "like a fallen rock," Peterson writes.)

9. Asshekhqoyi vezhvena!

The next time your friend or loved one is celebrating another year around the sun, use this Dothraki phrase, which means “happy birthday” but literally translates to “[Have] a great blood-day!”

10. Zhavorsa or Zhavvorsa

Dothraki for dragon. Finne zhavvorsa anni? means “Where are my dragons?” This word might not be super applicable in everyday life, so jano—the Dothraki word for dog or dogs—is probably more appropriate.

11. Vorsa

Dracarys—a.k.a., what Dany says to Drogon to get him to let loose—is the High Valyrian word for dragonfire. It's unclear if the Dothraki have a word for dragonfire, but the word for fire is vorsa. Sondra, meanwhile, is their word for obsedian—or, as it's called on Game of Thrones, dragonglass.

For more information on the Dothraki language and culture, pick up Living Language Dothraki: A Conversational Language Course Created by David J. Peterson Based on the Hit Original HBO Series Game of Thrones at Amazon.

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