The Oscar statuette’s reluctant muse
If you’re looking for a tie-breaker for your pool at tonight’s Oscar party, Yahoo! Movies may have just provided it in the form of a little-known piece of trivia. The Academy’s golden statue is not an amorphous rendering of a vague human ideal; rather, it is modeled after one of the entertainment industry’s early (and slightly lesser-known) directors.
Emilio Fernandez (aka “El Indio”) was forced to relocate to Los Angeles from his native Mexico after being exiled for participation in an attempted uprising spearheaded by Adolfo de la Huerta in the 1920s. He forged a career for himself as both an actor and director, helming over 40 films over the course of the roughly 50 years he spent in Hollywood.
It was in the early part of his career that he came into contact with Cedric Gibbons via Gibbons’s wife, Mexican actress Dolores del Rio. Gibbons was the art director for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, an early AMPAS member and the man responsible for overseeing the design of Oscar’s statuette.
The art director asked Fernandez to pose nude for the sketch that would serve as the template for the statuette’s mold. Fernandez “reluctantly” agreed, thus solidifying his place in cinema history. Artist George Stanley utilized Fernandez’s form to create the sculpture that became the basis for the first Oscar statuette given out in 1929 and an image that has graced the mantles of hundreds of Hollywood’s chosen elite since that time.
Fernandez is notable for his portrayal of General Mapache in Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 classic western “The Wild Bunch” and as the director of “Maria Candelaria," which starred his old friend del Rio and won the 1946 Cannes Grand Prix for beat feature (among other endeavors). It is the physical inspiration he provided for the Oscar that has burned its way into the global consciousness on the grandest scale, however.
Yesterday a friend and I had joked that the power and er, scope, of Michael Fassbender’s bare body had earned him an “intimidation snub” at this year’s Academy Awards for his truly stunning work in Steve McQueen’s “Shame.” So I find it somewhat delightful to report today that the (seemingly) prudish AMPAS is handing out the immortalized likeness of a man in all his dishabille glory as their highest honor tonight, as they have done every year since 1929.