Kurt Iswarienko/FX

Did Bette Davis Really Coin the Term "Oscar"? 'Feud' Gives The Academy Awards Nickname An Origin Story

By
Share

In the first episode of Feud, Joan Crawford indulged in some complaining about her co-star Bette Davis, revealing a funny little anecdote about Davis in the process. According to Crawford, Davis had taken credit for dubbing the Academy Awards statuette "Oscar" because the statuette's bum reminded her of her first husband's when he was getting out of the shower. (His middle name was Oscar, hence the nickname.) However, Crawford found the entire thing absurd because no one ever called Davis' husband Oscar; his name was Harmon Nelson, and his unfortunate nickname was Ham. But was their any truth to Davis' claims? Did Bette Davis really coin the term Oscar?

It doesn't seem like anyone knows for sure who officially coined the phrase, but Davis' version of things is one of the most popular. There are three commonly accepted stories that circulate about the origin of the term Oscars, and Davis' is one of them, but there's no hardcore proof that her story is any more true than the others. The only thing that's certain is that the name "Oscar" seemed cemented by around 1934, five years after the very first Academy Awards ceremony. The other claimants to the credit are Academy librarian Margaret Herrick and columnist Sidney Skolsky.

GIPHY

According to Herrick, the statuette reminded her of her Uncle Oscar because they both shared a certain "dignity, austerity, and commanding authority." Skolsky was a friend of hers and he was in the room when she first used the nickname, after which he started using it in his articles. However, once again there's no concrete proof to back up Herrick's claims and Skolsky told a very different story of how the nickname came to be.

Skolsky, who had to report on the Academy Awards, found the ceremony overwrought and self-serious; he couldn't stand how narcissistic the entire thing was and he also couldn't spell the word "statuette," so he decided to use a nickname that would be both easier to spell and poke fun at the awards. He wanted to turn the Academy Awards into the joke he thought they were, so he used the punchline from an old vaudeville joke as the nickname for the statuette: Oscar.

GIPHY

Skolsky was undeniably the first to use the name in print, which could mean that his version of events is the most accurate. But while Davis' story might not be the truest, it certainly is the most fun.