Oscar magic is brewing in a gritty Chicago factory where the statues soon to be hoisted in victory by the stars of the silver screen are born in a bubbling vat of britannia.
The pewter-like alloy is poured slowly into a mold and cools quickly. But it takes 40 hours of precise and delicate work before Oscar is ready for the bright lights of Hollywood. The heart of the trophy — with its iconic square jaw, broad chest and sword — is swiftly hammered out in preparation for careful polishing.
Once every blemish is erased and the Oscar shines like a mirror, the statue is hand-dipped in electrically-charged tubs of molten copper, nickel, silver and 24-carat gold.
Then it’s on to more polishing and a blinding lacquer before Oscar is finally screwed into his heavy base and carefully boxed using white gloves.
Hand-casting is a dying art, but one the Academy is willing to pay dearly for as it jealously guards the reputation of one of the most sought-after and recognised trophies in the world.
Perils of cheaper alternatives
The perils of seeking cheaper alternatives were on display at the Golden Globes last year when Robert De Niro showed up empty-handed in the press room after receiving a lifetime achievement award.”The top fell off,” he told reporters. “They’ll have to solder it back on.”
R S Owens — which has been making Oscars since 1982 — is the last trophy manufacturer left in the United States. Most of the cheap trophies handed out at kids’ sports tournaments are now made in China. R S Owens has fought to hang on by focusing on “prestige” awards — like the Oscars, the Emmys, MTV Music Awards, and the London International Advertising Award.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2012.