While some of us may disagree or even express insult in choices both past and present, one thing is certain, that as film fans the Oscars are a part of our lives – the grandest of award shows, the pièce de résistance of Hollywood.
To start my personal Oscars blogathon journey I thought it would be fun to take a brief look back at the First Academy Awards. Then at a few more Oscar firsts from the classics era – those that I find interesting or fascinating. And the first Oscars went to…
The first Academy Awards:
They were born in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Thursday, May 16, 1929. 250 people attended the presentation but none were anxious about the results since the winners were announced to the press on Monday, February 18, three months earlier. It was still a grand affair, however. Guests enjoyed a dinner of Filet of Sole Saute au Buerre and Half broiled Chicken on Toast. Douglas Fairbanks and William C. deMille presented each winner with a statuette, The Academy Award of Merit. (AMPAS)
Fifteen Oscar statuettes were awarded at the 1929 ceremony. These were for cinematic achievements between Aug. 1, 1927, and July 31, 1928 – very different from how Oscar nominees are considered today – those first years of the Academy Awards chose actors based on a body of work for a year’s time, a much “truer” measure of “Best” anything by my estimation. The actual statuette has remained virtually unchanged since 1929. The original design was done by MGM art director, Cedric Gibbons. And, as many know, who Oscar was modeled after has been debated since the golden guy was first introduced.
The very first winner for Best Picture was William Wellman’s, Wings. Producer, Adolph Zukor received the award for Paramount Pictures.
Emil Jannings, the winner for best actor, did not attend the ceremony so that he could travel back to his home in Germany. Prior to his departure, he was given the statue and became the very first person to be given an Academy Award.
“Hand me now already the statuette award.” – Emil Jennings
Janet Gaynor was chosen Best Actress for her work in Frank Borzage’s, 7th Heaven, F. W. Murnau’s, Sunrise and Frank Borzage’s, Street Angel. It is reported that while backstage after the awards ceremony, Gaynor was asked what was most exciting about winning. Her reply was, “Meeting Douglas Fairbanks,” the Academy’s first president and living legend.
Here’s a clip noting all the winners that year:
The first “Special” Awards:
I am fascinated by the fact that from the onset the Academy recognized a need to honor achievements that did not fit into fixed categories. That first year it presented two special awards – one to Warner Bros. and one to Charles Chaplin:
AMPAS sent a letter to Chaplin, which read:
“The Academy Board of Judges on merit awards for individual achievements in motion picture arts during the year ending August 1, 1928, unanimously decided that your name should be removed from the competitive classes, and that a special first award be conferred upon you for writing, acting, directing and producing The Circus. The collective accomplishments thus displayed place you in a class by yourself.”
The original Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences consisted of 230 members who each paid membership dues of $100.
If interested, you can access details of all Oscar nominees and winners through the years in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) database.
More notable Oscar firsts:
Thomas Edison was the first honorary member of the Academy for his contribution to the creation and development of the motion picture.
At the 1931 ceremony, Norma Shearer had the awkward duty of announcing herself as a winner. As a result, that was the first and last time a nominated actor presented an award for his/her own category.
The Academy Awards ceremony was broadcast nationally for the first time in 1932.
From 1934 on, the nominating selection and the Awards ceremony would be in accordance with the calendar year.
Charles Laughton was the first non-American to win Best Actor in 1934 for his work in Alexander Korda’s, The Private Life of Henry VIII, which was also the first non-American film to be nominated for Best Picture.
MGM was the first studio to campaign with ads in the press for Oscar consideration for Clarence Brown’s, Ah, Wilderness in 1935. The film failed to receive a single nomination.
Best Supporting categories were introduced in 1936. Winners in this category received plaques rather than statuettes. They started receiving statuettes in 1943.
Bob Hope made his debut as Oscar host in 1939, the first of seventeen future appearances.
In 1939, Hattie McDaniel broke the color barrier not only by winning an Oscar, but also for being the first black guest at the Academy Awards.
Following a leak of winners’ names to the press by the Los Angeles Times, from 1939 forward only the accounting firm of Price Waterhouse would have the names prior to the ceremony.
In 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the first U.S. president to formally address the Awards ceremony.
Oscar statuettes, which had been made of plaster during World War II are restored to bronze and gold plate in 1945.
Edward Dmytryk’s, Crossfire was the first “B” movie to be nominated for Best Picture in 1947.
The Oscars are on television for the first time in 1952.
James Dean became the first actor to be nominated posthumously in 1955. And became the only actor to be nominated posthumously twice the following year.
For the first time ever every Best Picture nominee was in color in 1956.
In 1958 no Communists were allowed to receive awards. That had to be a first!
I recently read an article written by film historian and critic, Leonard Maltin, titled, “Why the Oscars Still Matter,” in which he recalls his early Oscars memories. The article got me thinking about one of my own Oscars memories that I thought I’d share.
Like most classic movie fans, my love of films and all things Hollywood started at a young age. So it should not be surprising that one of my favorites things to do as a child was play “Oscars,” which I did often with one of my cousins. The game consisted of our picking our favorite movies, accuracy was of no importance so these films could be the best of camp from the 1950s or one widely considered a masterpiece by the most knowledgable historian. We didn’t care if they’d been nominated by the Academy or not. We were the only Academy that mattered.
When preparations were complete – that is, when we each finished listing our notables for each category, we’d group our favorite movies and movie stars into absurd categories, often several best pictures took home the grand prize, which was one of my brother’s track trophies. Then we would present the awards in mock, rather embarrassing displays of awe to our own imaginations. We were the presenters, the audience and, of course, the winners as well and took turns delivering the acceptance speeches. Sometimes, we were even the sponsors as I remember a couple of popular jingles, “I am stuck on band aid” and “I Can’t believe I ate the whole thing” that we repeated over and over again if one or the other needed to step away.
Continuing a life-long tradition then, I will surely be riveted come February 24th as I watch this year’s ceremony on ABC. “Movie Stars” are not what they used to be, they no longer carry that royal air that those of the golden age used to, but the Oscars today are still connected to the Oscars of yesteryear as I am. As Leonard Maltin said, they still matter.
This entry is part of the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon and kicks off my participation in what we hope will be an annual event, which both celebrates our love of film and the Oscars – an event that coincides with the month-long Oscars celebration on Turner Classic Movies,
To read more posts dedicated to Oscars past and present, films and filmmakers that have left a mark, please visit any of the following sites, co-hosts of the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon. As I am one of them, I can attest to the fact we have an impressive array of entries by great bloggers and passionate cinephiles.
Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled
Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club
and yours truly, Aurora at Once Upon a Screen