After 87 years, the Academy Awards are still going strong, the annual award ceremony is one of the most influential and significant events worldwide. Although the ceremony is Hollywood’s biggest night NOW, stretching beyond film to often influence fashion and politics, has it always been like this? DMG Entertainment would like to take you back into time, when the four-hour long, star-studded extravaganza was merely a fifteen-minute affair. So get ready for a blast from Hollywood’s past!
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was established by MGM studio co-founder Louis B. Mayer to unite the film industry and show the importance of every filmmakers’ role including directors, producers and writers. The inaugural award ceremony was held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles on May 16, 1929.
The first Academy Awards was a most humble event. The ceremony only consisted of 36 dinner tables and 270 attendees. The price of admission was five dollars, roughly $69 by today’s standards. AMPAS President Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. hosted the fifteen-minute award ceremony.
Cedric Gibbons, MGM studio’s art director, designed the iconic Academy Award trophy. But how did the Academy Award become known as an “Oscar”? Although historians can’t confirm the nickname’s actual origin, there are three possible beginnings. The first possibility is AMPAS’ executive director Margaret Herrick stating the statue looked like her Uncle Oscar. The second possibility is AMPAS’ President Bette Davis stating the statue reminded her of her husband (whose middle name was Oscar) in 1941. Or the third possibility, columnist Sidney Skolsky referring to the award as an “Oscar” in a 1934 column, his reason unknown.
Nominated filmmakers were far from nervous about the event. Not only were the winners announced three months before the Academy Awards ceremony, but also the event was not publicly broadcasted. So why did the nominees even attend? To enjoy some broiled chicken on toast while hanging out with some of the biggest names in the biz.
So who were that night’s big winners?
Outstand Picture: WINGS (1927) – Lucien Hubbard
Unique and Artistic Picture: SUNRISE (1927) – William Fox
Best Director, Comedy: TWO ARABIAN KNIGHTS (1927) – Lewis Milestone
Best Director, Drama: 7TH HEAVEN (1927) – Frank Borzage
Best Actor: THE LAST COMMAND (1928) and THE WAY OF ALL FLESH (1927) – Emil Jannings
Best Actress: 7TH HEAVEN (1927), STREET ANGEL (1928), and SUNRISE (1927) – Janet Gaynor
Best Writing, Original Story: UNDERWORLD (1927) – Ben Hecht
Best Writing, Adapted Story: 7TH HEAVEN (1927) – Benjamin Glazer
Best Cinematography: SUNRISE (1927) – Charles Rosher and Karl Struss
Best Art Direction: THE DOVE (1927) and TEMPEST (1928) – William Cameron Menzies
Best Engineering Effects: WINGS (1927) – Roy Pomeroy
Best Writing, Title Writing: (No specified film) – Joseph Farnham
The 1929 Academy Awards also presented two honorary awards to Charlie Chaplin and Warner Bros Studio. Chaplin received his honorary award for his work in THE CIRCUS (1928), and Warner Bros. received an honorary award for THE JAZZ SINGER (1927).
Who decided on the night’s big winners? Founder members of the Academy Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Sid Grauman, Louis B. Mayer, Mary Pickford and Joseph Schenck.
Like any big night in Hollywood, controversy and gossip followed.
Although THE JAZZ SINGER (1927) was the first film to use synchronized dialogue, a revolutionary change in the film industry, the movie was not allowed to compete in the Academy Awards. The Academy believed the industry’s first “talkie” film had an unfair advantage over silent films. Therefore, the Academy gave the film an honorary award.
Although Charlie Chaplin’s THE CIRCUS (1928) was originally nominated for the Best Actor, Best Writer, and Best Comedy Director, the Academy removed Chaplin from those categories. Due to Chaplin’s unpopularity, the Academy thought it was best to retract their nominations and give Chaplin an honorary award instead.
While many critics and filmmakers believed the Academy snubbed Buster Keaton’s THE GENERAL (1926).
Little did Louis B. Mayer know the Academy Awards would become one of the most important events in the film industry. 87 years later, his idea to unite the industry would become a global spectacle, watched by 36.6 million people in over 200 countries.
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