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Chicago’s Very Own Oscar

What tall, good-looking, well-known man known mostly by his first name calls Chicago home?  No silly not Barack, its Oscar as in Academy Awards.  As all of us are preparing for the 81st Academy Award season Oscar, the statuette has slowly been making its way from its Chicago confines to the Academy’s offices in Los Angeles.

5535 N. Lynch Avenue may not be Michigan Avenue but it is home to one of the most recognizable symbols of glamour, the movies and what dreams are made of.  R.S. Owens, a Chicago’s Very Own, has been making the Oscar statuette for the last 26 years and holds in its vault one of only two molds of the statuette in existence.  It takes 12 R.S. Owens employees to make the 50-60 statutes each year that are used in the ceremony.  By this time they have mastered the 20-hour process it takes to make each Oscar statuette yet standards are so high if there is the slightest imperfection the statute is melted down.  R.S. Owens is very hush-hush as is the Academy to the real market value of an Oscar but it is plated in 24-karat gold except during World War II when for economic reasons it was made out of plaster.  God knows, this year they may be made out of plastic with all the economic woes at hand.

Yours truly had the pleasure of holding this 8 ½ pound, 13 ½ inch awe inspiring statute during last year’s Academy Award party season.  Never one to tell tales out of school, I was at a certain record producer’s house who will remain nameless (can anyone say “Thriller”) and there IT stood in the living room on the grand piano.  Yes, there were numerous Grammy’s to behold and an Emmy (also made by Chicago’s Own R.S. Owens) but I wanted to hold Oscar.  Ladies, it has nothing to do with the statuette’s depiction of a knight sans clothing with an awesome backside holding a sword – can anyone say Lancelot!  It’s simply that it’s an OSCAR.  When you hold one and I recommend everyone do so, even if you aren’t able to earn it on movie making talent, it’s inspirational.

So while everyone was busy with cocktails and crudités, I held Oscar in my hand and slowly the lights dimmed and I was on stage at the Kodak Theatre:  “I want to thank the Academy, my ballet teacher. . .”  Of course, reality came back when friends tapped me on the shoulder and said it was time to go home and that I had better not think to put that in my purse like I did the gold monogrammed cocktail napkins.

The original Oscar mold was cast in Illinois in 1928 at the C.W. Shumway & Sons Foundry in Batavia and the first Academy Award of Merit, as its officially known, was handed out in 1929.  California lays claim to the design which originated in Los Angeles by a MGM art director and modeled after Emilio Fernandez a Mexican director-screenwriter.  The Oscar reference is hard to trace and definitely is not something Chicago can take credit for, but such luminary’s as Betty Davis have tried to lay claim to the naming of the statue.  Whatever the truth maybe it has been known simply as the Oscar since the ‘30s.  It is also difficult to trace why Oscar has such deep and long Chicago roots but we are glad for it and should be a source or pride.  So whenever you see Denzel, Javier or Jack holding their Oscar they are holding a piece of Chicago in their hands - Bravo!

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