Awards season kicks off each year in November with the Emmy Awards and culminates with the Academy Awards in February. (The Tonys are a summertime outlier.)
Rare talents can sometimes win all four of the major performing arts awards—an almost mythic achievement known colloquially as an EGOT: an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. There are relatively few EGOT recipients, but they include Mel Brooks, Audrey Hepburn, Whoopi Goldberg, and John Legend.
EGOTs aside, each award ceremony appeals to its own audience of devotees. Are you familiar with how your favorite award show got its name?
The Academy Awards (a.k.a. The Oscars) are awarded each year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), an invitation-only professional organization of film industry heavyweights. The Oscar is its casual nickname; the official name of the golden statuette is the Academy Award of Merit. They were first awarded in 1929, first broadcast on radio the following year in 1930, and first televised in 1953. The first award show ran a total of 15 minutes, which is a far cry from the hours-long endurance marathons they’ve become.
The statue that everyone hopes to take home was modeled after Mexican actor, film director, and screenwriter, Emilio “El Indio” Fernández, best known for directing María Candelaria. The statue’s nickname, Oscar, has conflicting origin stories, but the most popular narrative credits Margaret Herrick, Academy Award librarian and eventual Director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Allegedly, Herrick claimed in 1931 that the statuette looked “like her Uncle Oscar.”
The Tony Awards are presented by the American Theater Wing, a performing arts advocacy group, and The Broadway League, a trade association for the theater industry, to celebrate exceptional talents in the world of theater. Started in 1947, the award’s official name is the Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre.
The award itself is a medallion, embossed on one side with the traditional comedy/tragedy masks, and marked on the opposing side with the recipient’s name, award category, production, and award year. (Originally, the reverse side depicted the image of the award’s namesake, Antoinette Perry, co-founder of the American Theater Wing, whose nickname was Tony.)
The Emmy Awards
The Primetime Emmy Awards, for those who have trouble keeping track, are the ones for television. The annual award is administered by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS), and the statuette depicts a winged woman holding what appears to be a gyroscope but is, in fact, an atom. The trophy was designed by TV engineer Louis McManus in 1948, who famously modeled the trophy after his wife.
It’s rumored that ATAS founder Syd Cassyd first thought about calling the award the Ike, a nickname for the television iconoscope tube. However, Ike was also the commonly used nickname for war hero and future president Dwight D. Eisenhower. So an alternate name, the Immy, after the image orthicon tube, was suggested by former Academy Director, Henry Lubcke. The name was later feminized to Emmy to match the statuette’s female image.
The youngest of the bunch, the Grammy Awards are presented each year by the Recording Academy, formerly the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). Founded as a byproduct of a 1950s project to award Hollywood Walk of Fame stars to deserving members of the recording industry, the Grammys were created to be the music’s answer to the Oscars and the Emmys, and they honor musical achievements from the preceding year.
NARAS first considered calling the award The Eddie, after phonograph inventor Thomas Edison. But they opted instead to name the award after the gramophone, invented by Emile Berliner, shortening it to the familiar Grammy. The award itself is a gold-plated statuette of Berliner’s iconic record player.
Fun fact: Since the personalized trophies don’t get doled out until after the award ceremony, the trophies we see during the Grammys are dummies they reuse each year. At least they’ve maintained their luster.