The Oscar is Mexican: Modeled after Emilio ‘El Indio’ Fernandez

The 8-pound, 24-carat-gold-plated statuette that was handed out at the Academy Awards Sunday night is said to be modeled after a real man.

That man's name is not Oscar. The story behind the Academy Award’s Oscar statuette is itself one fit for the movies. It starts in the 1920’s during the Mexican Revolution.

Emilio Fernandez was studying in Mexico’s military college when he dropped out to take up arms and support the revolutionary cause of Adolfo de la Huerta.

In 1924, a defeated De la Huerta was forced into exile and left Mexico to open a music school in Hollywood. Fernandez was captured and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Fernandez had been incarcerated for 8 months when he managed to escape. It is said he used dynamite to blow himself out of jail. He soon joined De la Huerta in Los Angeles where he began working as an extra in Hollywood films.

Charles Ramirez Berg, professor of film studies at the University of Texas at Austin, says there was a community of Mexicans working in Hollywood in the 1920s around the same time the Academy Awards began.

Ramirez Berg says. "Dolores Del Rio was there, her cousin Ramon Navarro, they were both big stars, and among them was Emilio Fernandez."
Fernandez was an extra at the time, and Ramirez Berg says when MGM Art Director Cedric Gibbons was designing the statuette for the Academy Awards, his wife, Dolores Del Rio, gave him an idea.

"The story is that Dolores Del Rio referred him to Emilio Fernandez and said you should use Emilio for the model," Ramirez Berg says. "He had a very athletic build, I mean, he looked just like Oscar."

Fernandez eventually returned to Mexico where he went on to write, direct, and star in dozens of films, receiving acclaim for several, including “La Perla,” which he directed and co-wrote with John Steinbeck, and “Maria Candelaria,” which was the first Mexican film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival of France.

In Mexico, Emilio Fernandez (1904-1986) was nicknamed “El Indio,” Spanish for “The Indian,” a tribute to his Indigenous heritage and subject matter of many of his films.

It would be wonderful if it were true, that Emilio 'El Indio' Fernandez is part of that story.
Hola Arkansas Staff

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