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Oscar statue is part of Hispanic heritage

Feb. 20, 2013 at 6:03 p.m.
Updated Feb. 19, 2013 at 8:20 p.m.

Emilio Fernandez

Editor, the Advocate:

It's Academy Award season, and everyone is vying for the coveted Oscar - the symbol of merit for distinctive achievement. But who is Oscar?

We all know the stories about how Oscar got his name. Bette Davis claimed she named the Oscar after her husband, and Academy lore says their own Executive Secretary Margaret Herrick, thought the statue reminded her of her uncle, Oscar. In any case, the name was officially adopted by the Academy in 1939. But who posed nude for the face and body of Oscar?

In 1928, MGM art director Cedric Gibbons supervised the design of the Academy statue and was looking for a model when his future wife, Dolores Del Rio, introduced him to a fellow countryman - a powerfully built, 5-foot 11-inch, bronze-skinned Mestizo named Emilio Fernandez.

A half-Mexican, half-Kickapoo Indian born in Coahuila, Mexico, in 1904, he dropped out of school to serve in Adolfo Huerta's revolution and was caught and sentenced to 20 years in prison. In true Hollywood fashion, he dynamited his way out of prison and fled to Los Angeles. Gibbons thought Fernandez was perfect and, after some cajoling, convinced him to pose nude for the statue clasping a sword in a knight's stance atop a five-spoked movie reel symbolizing the original branches of the academy: actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers. But the story doesn't end there.

He became an actor, screenwriter and director best known for directing "Maria Candelaria" and winner of the 1964 Grand Prix award at Cannes for best director. You know him best as the renegade General Mapache in the "Wild Bunch," or the bandit leader, Francisco Lorca, in "Return of the Magnificent Seven." He's been designated the most important figure in Mexican cinema.

Ironically, in spite of all his accolades, the branches within the Academy that could have rewarded him didn't exist then. So the man who is Oscar was never nominated for an Oscar, but oh, what an emblem of Hispanic pride.

Rawley Brown, Victoria

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