The most important prop in the Academy Awards may not be the Oscar statuette itself but rather the sealed 6 x 9 booklet Oscars envelope that conceals the award winners. Since 1941, the winning nominees of their respective categories have been kept a closely-held secret until their official announcement during the ceremony. What occurs beforehand is a mixture between the latest practices for maintaining trade secrets and an arcane ritual that has been followed almost to the letter for over 70 years.
The two men who hand out the awards to presenters have even assigned themselves a respective wing backstage. “We are superstitious, so we stand on the same side every year,” PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Rick Rosas told ABC News. However, most of their practices have little to do with superstition and more to do with keeping the official winner names away from prying eyes until the night of the ceremony. History and the humble 6 x 9 booklet envelope have played a huge part in how the process is handled.
The Oscars Envelope Is Born
The Academy Award winners were not always kept secret. At the very first ceremony in 1929, the winners were announced three months prior to the awards ceremony, which was held at a private reception and banquet in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. From 1930 onward, results were handed to all the major newspapers the morning before the ceremony so that the stories could run on time — with the caveat that they could not be published until after the ceremony was over.
Naturally, one newspaper broke their promise: the L.A. Times in 1940. After that point, the Academy decided that the winners should be kept under wraps through a rigorous security process.
How Oscar Ballots Work
The Academy takes the process of tabulating winners and then keeping their identities a secret very seriously. They entrust it to the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Since 2005, the same two men have been in charge of handling the final tallies and guarding the winners’ names: Rick Rosas and Brad Oltmanns. Also known as the “men with the briefcases on the red carpet,” their responsibilities are quite real and not mere ceremony.
“We get a lot of light hearted, kidding questioning during Oscar season from different people that we talk to in our daily job — friends and family,” noted Oltmanns. “But people know that this is something that Rick and I take very seriously. I’ve never once been concerned at all about the security being compromised.”
To preserve the identity of the winners, the mailed-in member votes are tallied in small groups so that no one worker can determine the outcome. The designated two people in charge then assemble the final count. Winners are handwritten on cards in a secret location and then placed in the sealed Oscars envelopes, which are then put under tight lock and key until the day of the ceremony. As awards presenters enter the stage, they receive the sealed envelopes and legitimately discover the winner’s identity for the first time as they tear open the seal. As such, their surprises are genuine, as are the actual winners they announce. Yes, that includes Marisa Tomei.
While the secret is then out on the winners, the two men still retain other information that they must take to their graves: the people who almost won. “Every single year there are close races, and Rick and I count, recount, count, recount again, just to be sure that we’ve got it dead-accurate,” Oltmans confessed. With a twinkle in his eye, Rosas added: “The runner up will never know.”
Get a Taste of Oscars History with Your Own 6 x 9 Booklet Envelopes
Want to feel official? Got an awards ceremony of your own to put on? Just need to mail something in an eye-catching envelope form factor? Take a look at our 6 x 9 envelopes, just like the ones the Oscars use, available with custom printing and even in colored paper on special orders.