Oscars or 'Emilios'? The Mexican who may have inspired the famous award statuette
Director and actor Emilio "El Indio" Fernández claimed that the muscular golden torso held by the biggest movie stars was his own.
Hollywood is not only a dream-making machine, but also a legend-making machine. Like Marilyn Monroe's eleven toes, that Chaplin was terrified of tasseled hats or that Hitchcock was so "creepy" with his muses that he gave Tippi Hedren -Melanie Griffith's mother- a doll for her daughter in a coffin.
Many of them we now know to be untrue, but there is one in particular that has never been verified:
Is the Oscar statuette inspired by the muscular body and broad shoulders of Mexican actor and director Emilio "El Indio" Fernández?
He always claimed it was, and some historians suggest he may have been right...
A son of the Mexican Revolution, Fernández began working as an extra in Hollywood films and went on to earn a place as one of the most iconic directors and actors in Mexican cinema. On one occasion, it is said, he met the actress Dolores del Río on the set of the film Ramona (1928) and she offered to help him in his career, which was just beginning.
Del Río was married to art designer Cedric Gibbons, who was commissioned to shape the statuette in 1927 - two years later the first Academy ceremony would take place.
Gibbons was thinking about the figure of a knight holding a sword and was looking for a model, so Del Río suggested his friend Emilio, who according to gossip had to pose nude.
"He (Emilio) had a V-shaped body, broad shoulders and slim hips... He looks a lot like the Oscar statuette," film historian Dolores Tierney told Day 6.
Tierney believes there are several reasons to think this story could be true. However, she says, "El Indio" was also known to be a bit of a show-off.
"He likes to tell the story that he was the model for the Oscar statuette, but he's also a notorious mythomaniac, like a lot of directors," she said.
Among some of his stories, Emilio explained that he murdered his mother and her lover before leaving to fight in the Mexican Revolution, although years later his mother was discovered living quietly in San Antonio, Texas.
"El Indio" - whose nickname was invented by Dolores del Río — also claimed to have taught tango to none other than Rudolph Valentino and to have participated as a dancer in the filming of Flying Down To Rio with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
However, a brochure from the inaugural year of the awards explains that the statuette sculpted by George Stanley is "an idealized male figure standing on a representation of a motion picture," and that was the version defended by the Academy's librarians.
But where does the name "Oscar" come from?
This is how the Academy Award is customarily announced, but few winners pronounce its nickname, "Oscar," when they go out to collect it. And the controversy over the reason for this name and the many legends surrounding it may have a lot to do with it.
For who started calling the statuette "Oscar" and why? Was there ever an Oscar that looked like it?
The most widespread legend was that Margaret Herrick, at the time executive secretary of the Academy, remarked how much the golden figure resembled her "Uncle Oscar" - who was actually her cousin, Oscar Pierce.
Actress Bette Davis, who was president of the Academy in 1941, also explained in her biography that she gave herself the nickname because it reminded her so much of her first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson.
But they are not the only ones to claim her baptism, as the journalist Sidney Sklosly said that he was the first to call her Oscar in his newspaper columns because Academy employees were already calling her that.
The funny thing is that they may all be right. After all, Godard said, cinema is what lies between art and life. And, we might add, the rumor...