15 Star-Studded Facts About the Emmy Awards

Angela Weiss, AFP/Getty Images
Angela Weiss, AFP/Getty Images

Anything can happen at the Emmys: Impromptu make-outs. Presenter fraud. Near-death experiences for Bob Newhart. Before the 2018 broadcast begins on Monday, September 17, read up on the weirdest and most fascinating facts from the award ceremony’s 70-year history. Sure, hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost are likely to bring the comedy heat (with a side of politics), but can even their dual host power match the insanity of the 1974 Super Emmys?

1. THE WORD “EMMY” COMES FROM A CAMERA TUBE.

When the Television Academy was brainstorming a name for its new awards back in the late 1940s, founder Syd Cassyd first suggested “Ike,” a.k.a. the nickname for a television iconoscope tube. But the other members worried that that term was too closely linked to World War II hero (and future POTUS) Dwight Eisenhower, and therefore might seem too political. So instead, Henry Lubcke (who would go on to become the Academy's third president) floated “Immy.” It would reference another piece of TV tech, the image-orthicon tube. The rest of the team decided to feminize it into “Emmy,” so that it matched the statuette they had selected. That statuette, which resembles the one you know today, included a winged woman holding an atom. And it was based on a real person. (Keep reading ...)

2. DOROTHY MCMANUS WAS THE MODEL FOR THE STATUETTE.

Cassyd and his friends considered 47 design proposals for their award statuette, and promptly rejected all of them. But the 48th time was the charm. Television engineer Louis McManus’s design of a woman with wings (representing the arts) holding an atom (representing science) was the last one the team reviewed, but it turned out to be the winning pitch. McManus had modeled the woman on his wife, Dorothy—leading at least one art curator to wonder why the awards weren’t called “Dorothies.”

3. ONLY SIX AWARDS WERE HANDED OUT AT THE FIRST CEREMONY, AND ONE WENT TO A VENTRILOQUIST.

The very first Emmy Awards ceremony was held on January 25, 1949 at the Hollywood Athletic Club. Unlike the current iteration, it was a fairly cheap affair (tickets cost just $5) and the run time was a lot shorter. Only six awards were handed out that evening. The first one, for Most Outstanding Television Personality, went to 20-year-old Shirley Dinsdale and her puppet, Judy Splinters, for The Judy Splinters Show. Other winners included a program called Pantomime Quiz and Louis McManus, who got a special Emmy for designing the thing.

4. “BEST CONTINUING PERFORMANCE IN A SERIES BY A PERSON WHO ESSENTIALLY PLAYS HERSELF” USED TO BE A CATEGORY.

In the early years of the awards, the Emmys tested out a number of categories, some of them more logical than others. By far the most nonsensical pair came in 1958, when the Television Academy decided to honor the “Best Continuing Performance in a Series by a Comedienne, Singer, Hostess, Dancer, M.C., Announcer, Narrator, Panelist, or Any Person Who Essentially Plays Herself” along with a corresponding male category. Rumor has it the categories were mostly designed to honor Lucille Ball for I Love Lucy, but if that was the intention, it failed miserably. Dinah Shore won instead for The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, while Jack Benny took the male category for The Jack Benny Show. These categories were seemingly axed by 1959, much to the relief of tongue-tied presenters.

5. JACKIE KENNEDY IS THE ONLY FIRST LADY TO WIN AN EMMY.

To date, only one First Lady of the United States has won an Emmy. That distinction goes to Jackie Kennedy, who received a special Trustees Award for her famous televised tour of the White House in 1962. (Lady Bird Johnson accepted the statuette on Kennedy's behalf.) No First Lady has matched her Emmy count since, although Michelle Obama came somewhat close: She received Emmy attention when her Billy on the Street segment earned a 2015 nomination. Alas, it lost to Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis.

6. THE “SUPER EMMYS” WERE A HUGE FLOP.

In 1974, the Emmys decided to get experimental with a so-called “Super Emmy” ceremony. The show pitted the winning performers from the drama and comedy categories against each other—think Best Lead Actor in a Drama vs. Best Lead Actor in a Comedy, Best Supporting Actress in a Drama vs. Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy, etc. The ultimate champions would be crowned the actor or actress “of the year” in their respective categories, and the big winners included Alan Alda, Mary Tyler Moore, and Cecily Tyson. The next day, The New York Times wrote that the broadcast was "more confusing than ever" and that "the new 'super awards' are pointless"; things went back to normal for the next year's ceremony.

7. ALAN ALDA CARTWHEELED DOWN THE AISLE FOR HIS 1979 WIN.

Speaking of Alan Alda: He made a bigger splash at the Emmys just five years later. During the 1979 ceremony, he picked up a prize for his writing on M*A*S*H. Although he’d previously won acting and directing awards for the show, he’d never been recognized for his writing before—and he was excited. So he cartwheeled down the aisle in what is now an iconic Emmy moment.

“The writing one meant so much," Alda later told Variety. "I wanted to be a writer and a good writer since I was eight years old. To get an Emmy for writing meant so much that that was really spontaneous when I did the cartwheel on the way to the stage … I’m 80 now, but a couple of months after my 80th birthday, I was on the beach in the Virgin Islands and I said, ‘I’m gonna see if I can still do a cartwheel.'"

8. SOMEONE NEARLY STOLE BETTY THOMAS’S EMMY—ON STAGE.

When Betty Thomas won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for Hill Street Blues in 1985, a man came up to accept the Emmy on her behalf. This was strange for two reasons: Thomas was actually in the audience, and she had no idea who this guy was. The mystery man turned out to be Barry Bremen, a.k.a. “The Great Imposter.” He was known to pull similar pranks at large sporting events, including the Super Bowl. The Emmys were just his latest target, and it cost him; he walked away from that stunt with a $175 fine and six months' probation.

9. CABLE SHOWS WEREN’T ELIGIBLE FOR EMMY AWARDS UNTIL 1988.

Up until the late 1980s, only network shows were eligible for Emmy consideration. Cable series competed for prizes at their own awards show, the CableACE Awards. But the Emmys modified their rules in 1988 to allow cable programming in. The last CableACE Awards ceremony took place in 1997.

10. LORNE MICHAELS IS THE MOST EMMY-NOMINATED PERSON OF ALL TIME.


Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for TheWrap

The most Emmy-nominated individual of all time is Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, with a whopping total of 87 nominations. He'll compete this year for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series for SNL, and he'll also executive produce the Emmy Awards ceremony itself.

But when it comes to actual wins, HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins has got Michaels beat; she has collected a total of 31 Emmy Awards over the years (more than twice Michaels's 15 wins), including the 2018 Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special for The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling.

11. SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE IS THE MOST CELEBRATED SERIES.

Over its 43-year history, Saturday Night Live has racked up a total of 252 nominations and 62 wins (and counting). That makes it the most nominated show in Emmy history.

12. THE TELEVISION ACADEMY REALLY LOVES COPS.

If you’re serious about winning that statuette, it’s best to pick up a badge and a gun. In 2015, Rolling Stone crunched the numbers and discovered that characters in law enforcement receive the most Emmy love. It adds up when you look at past acting winners: Dennis Franz picked up four for his run on NYPD Blue, Tony Shalhoub won three for Monk, and Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless collectively earned six as the stars of Cagney & Lacey.

13. SOME WINNERS HAVE TO PAY FOR THEIR STATUETTES.

No, Julia Louis-Dreyfus doesn’t have to fork over cash for her Emmy backstage. But for categories where the winners can include 15 to 20 people (think writing teams), the Television Academy imposes some fees. In the interview above, Mo Rocca recounted how he paid for his own Emmy as part of The Daily Show writing staff.

14. IT COSTS $400 AND TAKES OVER FIVE HOURS TO MAKE ONE EMMY.

Charging winners to collect their prize might seem outrageous, but then again, an Emmy isn’t cheap. Each statuette costs about $400 and requires five-and-a-half hours of labor to create. They’re all made at Chicago's R.S. Owens, where employees mold and then coat the figures in copper, nickel, silver, and gold. Watch them in action above.

15. THE EMMYS OVERCAME A DIVERSITY HURDLE IN 2015.

When Isabel Sanford won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for The Jeffersons in 1981, she was the first black woman to receive that honor. The corresponding drama category remained all-white for over six decades, until 2015. Two years ago, Viola Davis won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for How to Get Away With Murder. She used her acceptance speech to talk about race and opportunity, provoking tears from several audience members and wild applause from her fellow nominee, Taraji P. Henson. (Davis is nominated again this year for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for a spot she did on Scandal.)

This year will bring even more diversity to the category, as Sandra Oh is the first Asian actor to compete for the coveted Lead Actress in a Drama statuette for her role in Killing Eve.

An earlier version of this story ran in 2016.

Why Are the Academy Awards Statuettes Called Oscars?

Getty Images
Getty Images

In 2013, the Academy Awards were officially rebranded as simply The Oscars, after the famed statuette that winners receive. "We're rebranding it," Oscar show co-producer Neil Meron told The Wrap at the time. "We're not calling it 'the 85th annual Academy Awards,' which keeps it mired somewhat in a musty way. It's called 'The Oscars.'" But how did the statuette get that nickname in the first place?

The popular theory is that the nickname for the Academy Award of Merit (as the statuette is officially known) was coined by Academy Award librarian and future Director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Margaret Herrick. The story goes that when Herrick first saw the statue in 1931, she said that it looked like her Uncle Oscar. According to Emanuel Levy, author of All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards, columnist Sidney Skolsky was there when Herrick said this and would later write that, “Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette ‘Oscar.’”

While the first documented use of “Oscar” as the nickname for the statuette was made by Skolsky—in a 1934 New York Daily News article—there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Skolsky was actually responsible for the above quote. Skolsky, in his 1975 memoir Don’t Get Me Wrong, I Love Hollywood, claimed he first used the nickname referencing a classic vaudeville joke line, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” in an attempt to mock the Academy Awards:

"It was my first Academy Awards night when I gave the gold statuette a name. I wasn’t trying to make it legitimate. The snobbery of that particular Academy Award annoyed me. I wanted to make the gold statuette human. ... It was twelve thirty when I finally arrived at the Western Union office on Wilcox to write and file my story. I had listened to Academy, industry, and acceptance talk since seven thirty ... There I was with my notes, a typewriter, blank paper, and that Chandler feeling.

You know how people can rub you the wrong way. The word was a crowd of people. I’d show them, acting so high and mighty about their prize. I’d give it a name. A name that would erase their phony dignity. I needed the magic name fast. But fast! I remembered the vaudeville shows I’d seen. The comedians having fun with the orchestra leader in the pit would say, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” The orchestra leader reached for it; the comedians backed away, making a comical remark. The audience laughed at Oscar. I started hitting the keys ...

“THE ACADEMY awards met with the approval of Hollywood, there being practically no dissension … The Academy went out of its way to make the results honest and announced that balloting would continue until 8:00 o’clock of the banquet evening … Then many players arrive late and demanded the right to vote … So voting continued until 10 o’clock or for two hours after the ballot boxes were supposed to be closed … It was King Vidor who said: “This year the election is on the level” … Which caused every one to comment about the other years … Although Katharine Hepburn wasn’t present to receive her Oscar, her constant companion and the gal she resides with in Hollywood, Laura Harding, was there to hear Hepburn get a round of applause for a change…”

During the next year of columns, whenever referring to the Academy Award, I used the word 'Oscar.' In a few years, Oscar was the accepted name. It proved to be the magic name."

"Mouse's Return," a September 11, 1939 article in TIME magazine, seems to back up Skolsky’s above claim, stating:

"This week Sidney Skolsky joined the growing stable of writers that Publisher George Backer is assembling for his New York Post. Hollywood thought Publisher Backer had picked the right horse, for Skolsky is one of the ablest columnists in the business (he originated the term “Oscar” for Academy Awards) and by far the most popular …"

Though Skolsky has actual evidence to back his claim, his assertion that he coined the nickname is still slightly in doubt. Many claim that during Walt Disney’s Academy Award acceptance speech for Three Little Pigs in 1934—the same year Skolsky first covered the Awards—Disney referred to the statuette his little "Oscar," which was supposedly an already well-established nickname for it within the industry. The term Oscar was commonly used as a mocking nickname for the Academy Award (as Skolsky claims he used it), but in this theory, Walt Disney was supposedly the first in the industry to publicly use the name in a positive light.

Perhaps Herrick really did think the statuette resembled her uncle. Or maybe Skolsky really did come up with the moniker (whether he did or not, he certainly helped popularize it). In the end, nobody really knows why the Academy Award statuette is called an Oscar.

The idea for the design of the Academy Award statuette was thought up by MGM director Cedric Gibbons. His idea was to have a knight gripping a sword while standing on a film reel. Sculptor George Stanley was then hired to create the actual statuette based on this design idea. The first Academy Awards ceremony was held on May 16, 1929 in the Blossom Room of Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel. The nickname Oscar wasn’t officially adopted for the statuette by the Academy until 1939.

Incidentally, the Academy states that the five spokes on the film reel the knight is standing on signify the original five branches of the Academy: writers, directors, actors, producers, and technicians.

Daven Hiskey runs the wildly popular interesting fact website Today I Found Out. To subscribe to his “Daily Knowledge” newsletter, click here.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article originally appeared in 2013.

11 Dothraki Words and Phrases Every Game of Thrones Fan Should Know

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

You know the words khal and khaleesi, but consider working these other words and phrases from the Dothraki language—which was created by linguist David J. Peterson, and featured in Living Language Dothraki—into your vocabulary before the final season of Game of Thrones premieres on April 14, 2019.

1. M’athchomaroon!

The Dothraki way of saying hi, this word—which can also be shortened to M’ach! or M’ath!—translates to “With respect.” To say hello to a group of non-Dothrakis, you would use the phrase Athchomar chomakea, which literally translates to “Respect to those that are respectful.” Fonas chek, which translates to "hunt well," is one way to say goodbye.

2. San athchomari yeraan!

Peterson writes that the Dothraki have no word for “thank you.” Instead, use this phrase, which literally translates to “a lot of honor to you!” but basically means “much respect!”

3. Fichas jahakes moon!

These are Dothraki fighting words, meant to encourage the warriors in their khalasar (or Dothraki group). This phrase means “get him!” but literally translates to “Take his braid”—which makes sense, since Dothrakis cut off their braids after a defeat. A Dothraki who wins a lot of battles is a lajak haj, or “strong warrior.”

4. And 5. Yer shekh ma shieraki anni and Yer jalan atthirari anni

Jason Momoa and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Both of these phrases—the first said by a male, the second by a female—mean “you are my loved one,” but they literally translate to phrases well-known to Game of Thrones fans: “You are my sun and stars” and “You are the moon of my life.” As Peterson notes, “these expressions come from Dothraki mythology, in which the sun is the husband of the moon.”

6. Anha dothrak adakhataan

Peterson writes that “as a result of the importance of horses to Dothraki culture, there are many idiomatic expressions related to horses and riding.” This phrase is best used before a meal: It means “I’m about to eat,” and literally translates to “I ride to eating.” If you were Dothraki, you’d likely be eating fresh horsemeat (gavat) and drinking mare’s milk (lamekh ohazho, which is often just shortened to lamekh).

7. Hrazef

This is Dothraki for horse, and there are many other words relating to horses in the language. A good one to know is the word for the great stallion, a.k.a., “the deity worshipped by the Dothraki”: vezhof.

8. Addrivat

Joseph Naufahu, Tamer Hassan, Emilia Clarke, Elie Haddad, Darius Dar Khan, and Diogo Sales in Game of Thrones
HBO

If there’s one thing the Dothraki are very good at, it’s killing, and they have multiple words for the deed. This is a verb meaning “to kill,” and literally translates to “to make something dead.” Both Ds are pronounced. It’s used, according to Peterson, “when the killer is a sentient being.” (Drozhat is used when a person is killed by an animal or an inanimate object, "like a fallen rock," Peterson writes.)

9. Asshekhqoyi vezhvena!

The next time your friend or loved one is celebrating another year around the sun, use this Dothraki phrase, which means “happy birthday” but literally translates to “[Have] a great blood-day!”

10. Zhavorsa or Zhavvorsa

Dothraki for dragon. Finne zhavvorsa anni? means “Where are my dragons?” This word might not be super applicable in everyday life, so jano—the Dothraki word for dog or dogs—is probably more appropriate.

11. Vorsa

Dracarys—a.k.a., what Dany says to Drogon to get him to let loose—is the High Valyrian word for dragonfire. It's unclear if the Dothraki have a word for dragonfire, but the word for fire is vorsa. Sondra, meanwhile, is their word for obsedian—or, as it's called on Game of Thrones, dragonglass.

For more information on the Dothraki language and culture, pick up Living Language Dothraki: A Conversational Language Course Created by David J. Peterson Based on the Hit Original HBO Series Game of Thrones at Amazon.

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