Cedric Gibbons

And the Winner Is: Irishman Cedric Gibbons

After his well-earned Bafta win, Cork’s Cillian Murphy is sure to be the Irishman everyone is talking about at the Oscars. But there’s another Irishman whose work appears at the Oscars year after year with barely a mention. Hands up if you already knew that the iconic gold statue presented to winners was designed by Irishman Cedric Gibbons. No? Don’t feel too bad. Despite receiving more than 1,500 onscreen credits over 40 years and winning a record-setting 11 Academy Awards for art direction, Gibbons never became a household name.

Gibbons got credited for an unbelievable about of work during his lifetime. While he did do work that has become classic, he had a bit of Blarney written into his contract with MGM Studios so he was credited as art director on every film made there during his tenure from 1924 to 1956. That is quite a take on one of the most notorious Irish gifts – the gift of the gab!

The iconic ruby slippers were inspired by Cedric Gibbons

He really didn’t need to do that because the work he actually did do was incredible. He gave us the Yellow Brick Road, the ruby slippers and so much more as art director for the Wizard of Oz. He was a pioneer in using three-dimensional movie sets as opposed to painted backdrops, and he brought the aesthetics of art deco to the big screen, notably in Ben Hur. Gibbons had a reputation as a perfectionist, something that pleased audiences more than colleagues.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Founder

By now, the Academy Awards are such a staple of the entertainment world that people rarely think of life before them or even know the organization’s full name. Gibbons was one of 36 film professionals who created the Academy as a non-profit organization in May 1927. His co-founders included luminaries such as Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and  Louis B Mayer. The group’s original goals included dealing with labor relations, improving relations between the different professional groups involved in filmmaking and presenting a positive image of the industry to the public. They quickly abandoned their efforts at labor relations in their first decade, and focused on recognizing excellence in their art.

Award Statuette

The first Academy Awards event was held on May 16th, 1929, and Oscar made his debut. Weighing in at 8.5 pounds, he is posed atop a film reel and holds a sword. The statue has remained largely unchanged through the decades, although in the early years the size of the base changed and during World War II, winners were presented with a plaster version due to a metal shortage. (They were eventually invited to swap those for the traditional gold-plated bronze version.)

Gibbons felt strongly about his Irish heritage, and reportedly told people he was born in Dublin and came to New York with his family in his teens. Official records say otherwise. His birth certificate states he was born in New York and his father was from Ireland. Considering the wealth of design talent demonstrated by everything from ancient stone carvings to the iconic Claddagh ring to more modern Irish gifts, at the very least we can credit Gibbons’ heritage with inspiring him, regardless of where he was born.