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Katharine Hepburn’s Oscars on View Aug. 4 at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

August 4, 2009

Katharine Hepburn’s record four Best Actress Academy Awards will go on display at the National Portrait Gallery Aug. 4, offering visitors a unique, close-up look at the Oscar and how it has changed over the years.

Hepburn won the first of her Best Actress Academy Awards for the 1933 film “Morning Glory.” This statuette on display is a legend in itself. A young Hollywood journalist named Sidney Skolsky, in writing his story about the proceedings of the 1934 Academy Awards, borrowed a colloquial stage name often used among performers and wrote, “Katharine Hepburn received the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in ‘Morning Glory.’” Consequently, this statuette was the first to be named “Oscar.”

The Oscar statuette was designed in 1927 by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons and sculpted by George Stanley. The figure stands on a film reel with five spokes, signifying the original branches of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers. Hepburn won her next three Best Actress Academy Awards for “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967), “The Lion in Winter” (1968) and “On Golden Pond” (1981). The actress lost her original Oscar for “The Lion in Winter, and the Academy replaced it. These three Hepburn Oscars are different from her earliest: In 1945, the statuette’s pedestal was raised and since then, the Oscar’s height has remained 13½ inches and weighs 8½ pounds; and while the first statuette was made of gold-plated bronze, it is now composed of alloy britannia and coated in 24-karat gold.

All four Oscars will be on view on the third floor of the National Portrait Gallery in the permanent exhibition “Twentieth-Century Americans,” next to Hepburn’s 1982 portrait by Everett Raymond Kinstler. The four Oscars are a gift from the Estate of Katharine Hepburn.

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SI-351A-2009

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Julia Hahn
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