The first Academy Awards ceremony in the history of Hollywood was held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Thursday, May 16, 1929. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) decided to honor the best movies released between August 1, 1927 and August 1, 1928 at a private dinner hosted in Los Angeles, California. About 270 people attended the event. Guests of members could attend and their tickets would cost five dollars. The awards ceremony lasted about fifteen minutes and was hosted by AMPAS President Douglas Fairbanks himself. The awards had been created by Louis B. Mayer, the founder of Louis B. Mayer Pictures Corporation which is now a part of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The first Academy Awards ceremony remains the only one to not have been broadcast on radio or television.
The first Academy Awards were presented in twelve categories of nominations. Unlike later ceremonies, there were no surprises when the awards were presented, since the winners had been announced over three months in advance. From the following year on, however, the Academy had started to keep the names of winners a secret till the evening of the ceremony. The newspapers and press were given a list at 11 pm on the awards night for publication in the next morning news. This changed in 1940 when the Los Angeles Times defied the embargo and published the awardees’ names in the evening edition which became available prior to the start of the ceremony. Since 1941, the Academy has adopted the sealed-envelope system which has now become its hallmark.
Fifteen statuettes awarded at the first ceremony included two special awards. At the ceremony, 20 additional certificates of honorable mention were handed to runners-ups in each awards category. The very first statuette went to the German tragedian Emil Jannings. Jannings had to return to Europe before the ceremony was to be held. He had requested for his award to be presented early. The Academy granted his request thus making him the person to receive the very first Academy Award ever presented. The Academy Award original statuette was designed in 1928 by Cedric Gibbons. George Stanley sculpted the statuette and was paid $500 to craft the original statue from Gibbons’ design.
The Best Picture Award was bagged by Wings, directed by William Wellman. Apart from being the only silent movie to have been awarded the Best Picture Academy Award, Wings was also the most expensive movie of its time produced with a budget of $2 million. Talkies had just started to be produced with the introduction of sound. The Academy had, however, decided that the Warner Bros. movie The Jazz Singer would not be allowed to compete for the awards since it was not fair for sound movies to compete with silent ones. F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise won the award for Unique and Artistic Production. Emil Jannings won the Best Actor Award for his roles in The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh. The Best Actress award was handed to Janet Gaynor for her three roles in the movies Seventh Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise. The two special honorary awards were presented to Charlie Chaplin and to Warner Bros. Chaplin was originally considered a nominee for Best Actor, Best Writer, and Best Comedy Director categories for his movie The Circus. He was removed from these categories and awarded the special award. Though The Jazz Singer had been disqualified, the production house, Warner Bros. was awarded for pioneering the outstanding talkie and thus revolutionizing the industry.
The nickname Oscar started to be officially used for the AMPAS Academy Awards in 1939. Popular Academy Awards legend has it that Academy executive director Margaret Herrick had once remarked that the award statuette somewhat resembled her Uncle Oscar and hence the awards came to be known as the Oscars.
Also On This Day:
1770 – Marie Antoinette marries the future King Louis XVI of France.
1881 – The first electric tram is flagged off in Germany.
1920 – Joan of Arc is canonized.
1991 – Queen Elizabeth II becomes the first British monarch to address the US Congress.
2002 – The remains of WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl are unearthed in Pakistan.