Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony

Someone mentioned the Emmy Awards the other day, and I realized I wasn't sure why they were called that. I figured they must have been named after some famous person named Emmy.

Turns out not:

[Television Academy] founder Syd Cassyd suggested “Ike,” the nickname for the television iconoscope tube. But with a national war hero named Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, Academy members thought they needed a less well-known name. Harry Lubcke, a pioneer television engineer and the third Academy president, suggested “Immy,” a term commonly used for the early image orthicon camera. The name stuck and was later modified to Emmy, which members thought was more appropriate for a female symbol.

So the Emmy awards are named after the image orthicon camera. I'm tickled by that—to me, that sounds like a newspaper award being called the Linies, for a linotype machine (or possible the Typos?), or a book award being named the Offies, for offset printing. Or even the Movies, for movable type. I wonder if there was ever a fanzine award called the Mimmies. Or Mimsies. Or Mimis.

Anyway, so it seemed amusing and unlikely to me that a major American entertainment award would be named after a piece of technology that was once used in its production or consumption. Until I remembered that the Grammy Award is named after the gramophone.

One might think, given this trend, that the Tony awards were maybe named after the Microtone, a clip-on microphone (that I just made up) first used on Broadway in 1932 (in my imagination), or the ToneTest, a clever little device for doing sound checks (that I also just made up). But no; the Tonys are named after Antoinette Perry, co-founder of the American Theatre Wing, the organization that gives the award. So much for the named-after-technology trend.

The other major award in this category, of course, is the Oscar. I figured that would be straightforward too, named after some then-famous film guy named Oscar, but it turns out the name's origins are mired in obscurity. Some of the claims:

  • Bette Davis named it after Harmon Oscar Nelson, her first husband.
  • Margaret Herrick (librarian for, and later executive director of, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) named it after her cousin Oscar Pierce.
  • Columnist Sidney Skolsky named it after a vaudeville joke.

Wikipedia also currently says it might've been named after Oscar Wilde, but the link to the alleged source for that claim is broken, and I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere else. I was going to add “and it seems unlikely to me anyway,” but then it occurred to me that all of the other award-name origins listed in this entry also seemed unlikely to me, so apparently I'm not a good judge of these things.