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Beyond Rococo-Deco

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Worthwhile notes on a history of Oscar set decor at the NYTimes.
Though the show’s look has often swung Rococo-Deco, the first Oscar ceremony, in 1929 in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, was a cozy, festive affair in which guests supped on squab and lobster Eugénie. In 1953, when the show was first broadcast on NBC, Bob Hope wore tails, stars referred to one another as Mr. and Miss, and there was no air-kissing. In that era “most movie stars didn’t appear on TV, so it was a novelty,” the film historian and critic Leonard Maltin said. Only the principal winners were allowed to make speeches — the rest bowed or curtsied and said thank you — and the set consisted of potted bougainvillea, a few Greek columns and a human-scale Oscar, perched on an ersatz wedding cake.

Since then, of course, a gold-encrusted, damn-the-torpedoes visual style has evolved on its own, typically dominated by gargantuan Easter Island Oscars. Among the eras have been Louis Quatorze (1967), Space Odyssey Moderne (2001) and perpetual futuristic spins on picture-palace Deco, including last year’s show, hosted by Jon Stewart, in which towering Oscars were encased in see-through capsules, resembling the orgasmatron in Woody Allen’s 1973 film “Sleeper.”

“Everyone involved in the show is highly conscious that it represents Hollywood to the world,” Mr. Maltin said. “So it has to be, in some sense of the word, spectacular.”


For the first time ever, this year the Oscars have hired an architect to design the sets: David Rockwell. He's from New York.