The Enchanting History of The Oscars
The Oscars are the holy grail of the entertainment industry. Some entertainers work their entire lives just for the chance to even be nominated for an Oscar, let alone actually win one, and be in the company of some of the best to have ever done it.
However, the Oscars weren't always what we see on TV today, like everything else it had its humble beginnings to get to where it's at now. If you are a fan of the Oscars, scroll through this gallery to read about its enchanting history.
Douglas Fairbanks’ private dinner
In 1929, the 1st Academy Awards were held in The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where Douglas Fairbanks held a private dinner. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had been founded by Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM studios. Two years after the Academy was founded, the first Award Ceremony was held.
Tickets to the private dinner cost $5, and the presentation was hosted by Douglas Fairbanks, an actor, and the Academy’s first president. The entire inaugural event lasted a total of 15 minutes.
Revolutionary period in the industry
At the time the first Academy Awards Ceremony was held, the entire film industry was undergoing some remarkable changes, with the addition of revolutionary tech such as revolutionary new sound technology. Seven years after the first event was held, the event was broadcast on radio, and in 1953, it was televised for fans to see.
To date, the Academy Awards remains the longest-running entertainment awards ceremony, and it has gotten so big now that it is broadcast across the globe. The ceremony is typically free to see over the air at local TV stations, and the organizers have a long-standing relationship with ABC.
The Mayfair Hotel hosted the post-awards celebration held after the inaugural Academy Awards in 1929. Guests only had to pay $5 for the ceremony that night, after a total of fifteen people were awarded.
Everyone from directors to artists and other film-making industry stakeholders were summoned and appreciated for their work from 1927-1928. That ceremony lasted only 15 minutes, and the media only got word of the winners three months after the ceremony had been concluded. This was the case during the first ceremony as the organizers felt things out.
Second Academy Awards Ceremony
The second Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1930, and it’s safe to say the organizers were better prepared at that point because, for one thing, the media got to know the winners on the same night the awards ceremony was held.
Roughly ten years later, the Los Angeles Times had gotten wind of the winners before the actual award ceremony was held, and the effect of this was information about the winners got a lot tighter for members of the media to access.
Oldest of the four major annual American Entertainment Awards
The Academy Awards, the Emmy Awards, Tony Awards, and the Grammy Awards make up the four major Annual American Entertainment Awards. The Academy Awards is the oldest of the four, with the Tony Awards being for theater, the Grammy Awards for music, and the Emmy Awards for television.
The remaining three were basically modeled after the formula of the Academy Awards, and being the first of the bunch, there remains something special about the Academy Awards, with a total of 3,140 Oscar awards issued since the ceremony was first held in 1929.
Registered trademark of the AMPAS
The term "Oscar" is used to refer to the Academy Awards, and winners are typically addressed as Oscar Winners but not a lot of people know how this term originated. Oscar is actually a registered trademark of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but it also has an Italian origin.
In the Italian language, "Oscar" is a general term used to describe several award ceremonies and awards, with no concern or discrimination for the field in which the honor was earned.
Emil Jannings’ milestone
Emil Jannings was the first recipient of the Academy Award for Best Actor. The Actor earned the honor for his performances in The Way of All Flesh and The Last Command.
Although he was reportedly in Europe at the time, Jannings returned to the US just before the award ceremony was held. As a result of this, the Academy decided he should be given his prize a bit earlier, and he, therefore, became the first Academy Award winner on record.
Nearly beaten to it by a dog
While it was Emil Jannings that emerged as the winner of the first Oscar, many people don’t know that he faced intense competition from Rin Tin Tin, an 11-year-old rescued German Shepherd that was one of the most famous Hollywood stars in those days.
Rin Tin Tin was rescued by a US airman during the war in France, and it quickly became one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. The dog was featured in 27 movies in the year the first Academy Award ceremony was held.
Talkies weren’t allowed to compete
At the time, silent movies were quite popular, but talkies with sound were also becoming more accepted. Warner Bros. movie The Jazz Singer was one of the first talkies made, and it was generally well-received by the public.
However, it wasn’t allowed to compete in the Best Picture category because the Academy thought it wasn’t fair to let the talkies compete with the silent movies that everyone was used to. This stance would eventually change as time passed but the organizers were quite firm on it initially.
Wings, a 1927 silent movie
The first-ever Academy Award for Best Picture was given to Wings, a silent movie released in 1927 that had cost an astounding $2 million to make.
The movie was the most expensive movie of its time, and it told the story of two pilots that had both fallen in love with the same lady. Wings remains a standout silent movie to date, as it was the only silent movie to win Best Picture for a long time until The Artist was released in 2012.
Winners earned recognition for their body of work
During the early stages of the Academy Awards, the winners were, for the most part, recognized for their entire body of work done in a single award category during the specified period of qualification.
For instance, Jannings, who we talked about in one of the previous slides, earned his Oscar award for starring in two movies, and Janet Gaynor would also win an Oscar Award for her leading role in three movies. The initial system adopted by the organizers is quite different from the one in use today.
The system changed
The first three Academy Awards ceremonies adopted a similar system of rewarding those that had done exceptional work in their fields but once the fourth ceremony rolled in, a new system was rolled in as well.
Unlike what was obtainable in the past, this time, the professionals were recognized for their specific performances in single movies rather than their entire body of work. This had an instant impact on the recognition of those that had distinguished themselves with exceptional work.
Two calendar years at first
So the initial Oscar Awards ceremonies contrasted starkly with how the prestigious Awards ceremony is held today. Unlike now, when one calendar year is all that is required to earn the recognition of the Academy, back then you had to do pretty well in two consecutive calendar years as that’s how long you had to earn the recognition of the organizers.
So in addition to impressing the Academy with multiple high-rated performances, you also had to do it for a minimum of two consecutive years to earn the coveted recognition.
Recognizing foreign movies
The 29th Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1957, and it was a historic event indeed as a brand new award category was unveiled at the event. The Best Foreign Language Film category was unveiled for the first time, and the category still exists today, although it’s known as Best International Feature Film these days.
Before the new award category was introduced in 1957, there had been little recognition for exceptional foreign language films, with the Special Achievement Award being the best they could get.
The wrong Frank on stage
One of the most awkward moments in the history of the Academy Awards happened in 1933, as the duo of Frank Capra and Frank Lloyd were both nominated in the Best Director category. That year, the prestigious event was hosted by Will Rogers, who remarked “Come on up and get it, Frank!”
Unfortunately, the wrong Frank got the message as Frank Capra had been caught up in the moment as he ran up to meet Rogers on the stage, and claim the award, only the award was never his, and it was in fact Frank Lloyd who had been summoned.
Capra also won Best Director the following year
Running up to the stage only to find out the award wasn’t his was a terrible moment for Frank Capra, who described the trip back down from the stage and back to his seat as the longest, saddest, and most breaking walk he’d ever had in his life.
Capra described “wishing he could have crawled under the rug like a worm,” only that wish was never granted so he made his way back and slumped in his chair like a real worm to find all his friends crying. Fortunately, he didn’t stay humiliated for very long, as he won the Best Director category at the following Academy Awards ceremony.
Robert Opel’s impact
At one point in the 1970s, 34-year-old Robert Opel was the most visible and widely known streaker in the Academy Awards history. He’d streaked across the stage at the 46th Academy Awards in 1974, which was held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.
The ceremony was broadcast on national television in the US, and Opel streaked across the stage bearing a peace sign for all to see. The host, David Niven, was just as bemused as everyone else when all of that happened.
The Golden Knight holding a sword
Although the Academy Awards are officially known as the Academy Award of Merit, the golden knight clutching a sword while on a film reel is known as Oscar. An art director at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Cedric Gibbons, is credited for designing the iconic statuette, but it was someone else that penned a name for it.
Although several theories have since emerged about the origin of Oscar, the most likely scenario is Margaret Herrick, an Academy librarian, remarked that the knight, shared some similarities to her uncle, who was named Oscar.
The Vito Corleone character
The Vito Corleone character has a special place in the history of the Oscars as the first role to have won the prestigious award while two different actors played it. The duo of Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando were both enlisted to play the part of Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1973).
This was a historic landmark because this was the first character to have two actors win the award for playing the same character. Another time this occurrence happened was with the character of The Joker, which has seen the duo of actors Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix win Oscars for playing the role.
The Imposter’s Award
Safe to say the level of organization and coherence we see at the Oscars in recent years wasn’t always the case early on in the history of the Academy Awards. In 1938, the Best Supporting Actress Award was Alice Brady's for her standout work in In Old Chicago.
Unfortunately, Brady had fallen ill before the ceremony and was therefore too weak to attend. Nonetheless, her award was announced in due time, and before anyone realized what was going on, an unknown man hit the stage and collected the award, purportedly on her behalf. He would then vanish from the venue of the ceremony, and to date, no one knows what happened to the stolen award.
The vanished crates of 55 Oscars
The 1938 incident of Alice Brady’s vanished award wasn’t the only time that Oscar Awards would simply vanish. In 2000, crates that held about 55 Oscars simply vanished from a loading bay.
A short while after, a total of 52 crates were recovered by a citizen named Willie Fulgear, who made the discovery while scouring a bin behind a food store in Koreatown. Fulgear needed boxes for a house move when he found the Oscars, and in his excitement, he told the press he had more Oscars than the movie stars.
George Bernard Shaw’s impact
George Bernard Shaw certainly left his impact on the Academy Awards. He’d first won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925 before winning an Academy Award for his adaptation of Pygmalion, a 1913 stage play he adapted into a movie script.
In the process, Shaw became the first individual to win a Nobel Prize and an Oscar. However, despite the significance of his win, George Bernard opted to not attend the ceremony, saying the organizers of the ceremony could just as well have sent some honor to George for being the King of England.
Leaked results in 1940
At the inaugural Academy Awards held in 1929, the public had gotten wind of the winners a couple of months before the actual ceremony. The previous times the ceremony was held, the organizers opted to create some suspense by sending the winners’ list to newspapers to be published on the night of the ceremony.
However, in 1940, the system that had been in place for about 10 years was broken as the nominees found out their fate before attending the ceremony for the first time.
The Hattie McDaniel landmark
In 1940, African-American actress Hattie McDaniel made history by becoming the first African-American actress to win an Academy Award. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of the Mammy character in Gone With the Wind, a 1939 Civil War epic.
However, the same year that McDaniel managed the feat, the ceremony was slated to be held in a hotel where there was a strict racial segregation policy, so just to have her in the building, David O. Selznick had to call in some favors.
Black actress in a leading role category
McDaniel had to make do with sitting on a segregated table at the back of the auditorium the year she made history with her Oscar win. It would then take more than six decades for a black actress to win an Academy Award in a leading role category, and that actress was Halle Berry, who won Best Actress for her lead role in Monster’s Ball.
During her popular acceptance speech, Berry remarked that the moment was a lot bigger than she was and that the win was for every woman of color for whom the door had been opened.
Painted plaster Oscar statuettes
The Oscar statuette depicts a knight clutching a crusader’s sword while standing on a reel of film. This was created by Cedric Gibbons in 1929, and in the early days of the ceremony, the gongs were made of gold-plated solid bronze, the favored material for a while until the pewter-like alloy Britannia metal was adopted.
However, the world would soon be hit by metal shortages as a result of the raging Second World War, and the effect of this was the awards had to be made from other materials. This led to the adoption of painted plaster as the preferred material for the awards.
Jannings’ thick German accent
Emil Jannings was the man that was awarded the first Oscar for his role in The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh. Despite his triumph, however, Jannings was phased out of Hollywood because his German accent was too thick.
This caused him to return to his native Germany, where he quickly became affiliated with the propaganda machine of Joseph Goebbels, and he starred in a couple of Nazism-promoting movies. After Berlin was invaded by the Allies in 1945, Jannings was reported to have gone around with his Oscar to win over some American soldiers.
The Martin Luther King assassination
In 1968, the Academy opted to push back the Academy Awards ceremony after Martin Luther King’s assassination by an unknown assailant. His funeral was scheduled to be held in April, and most of the country’s population was in mourning in the aftermath of his death.
So it was only right for the organizers of the ceremony to shift the event from April 8th to April 10th. Likewise, the 1981 Academy Awards ceremony was shifted after there was an assassination attempt on the life of US President, Ronald Reagan.
Dudley Nichols started it
While Marlon Brando gets the most rap for rejecting his Oscar award due to the circumstances surrounding Native Americans, he wasn’t the first person to turn down an Oscar. In 1936, Dudley Nichols turned down the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, which he’d won for his role in The Informer, a 1935 movie.
Nichols' reason for turning down the award was the ongoing strike action initiated by the Screen Writers’ Guild, and it is safe to say he started the tradition of turning down the highly-coveted award, with many more to follow over the years.
Intended to refuse the award
Dudley Nichols’ impact spread quickly, and so after George C. Scott was nominated for the Best Actor category for his portrayal of the titular character in Patton in 1971, he informed the Academy that he planned to refuse the award if he emerged winner in the category.
Naturally, he wasn’t expected to win the category after announcing his intentions, so everyone was surprised when he was announced as the winner. It wasn’t surprising therefore that Scott opted to skip the ceremony, calling it a two-hour meat parade.
Marlon Brando didn’t want it
In 1973, Marlon Brando made history in another way when he rejected the Best Actor award that he earned for his role in The Godfather in 1972. Brando refused to collect the award because he was protesting the way Native Americans were portrayed by the movers and shakers of Hollywood.
Besides not accepting his award, Brando also didn’t attend the ceremony, as he opted to send Sacheen Littlefeather to give a speech in his stead. However, she was also a Native American activist actress so she didn’t exactly share a different ideology.
Littlefeather's disruptive speech
Sent in by Marlon Brando to give a speech on why he didn’t want his Oscar award, Littlefeather gave a speech to the audience as expected, only her speech wasn’t what anyone thought.
After explaining Brando’s actions and thoughts, the crowd at that edition of the Oscar Awards ceremony were clearly lost and confused as to how to react, so some members of the crowd booed her while others cheered her on. Presenter Roger Moore was clearly confused so he simply took home the award that Littlefeather had declined too.
The youngest-ever Oscar winner
Tatum O’Neal also made history when she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1974. The 10-year-old won the award for her role in Paper Moon, a movie in which she starred with her father and became the youngest-ever Oscar winner in history.
She turned up to collect her award in platform shoes and a mini tuxedo but she attended the ceremony without her father, who couldn’t make it because of his busy schedule. She won the award ahead of Linda Blair, who was four years older.
The Titanic sweep
Titanic is a historic movie that has dominated discussions and theaters since its release in 1997. The landmark movie also dominated the 1998 edition of the Academy Awards, where it emerged with 11 wins from a whopping 14 nominations.
The movie stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio and tells the touching story of their love and how their passenger ship sank on its first-ever voyage in 1912. Like other movies with historical underpinnings, Titanic was well-received at the Oscars, beating out other popular movies.
The struggle with diversity
The long history of the Academy Awards has been characterized by a seemingly never-ending struggle with diversity. Throughout the history of the awards, there have only been four black actors that have emerged as winners in the Best Actor category.
On top of that, only eight black actresses have managed the feat in the Best Actress category. Likewise, the Best Director category has never been won by a black director, and the Academy has been correctly criticized for its lack of diversity, which is actually reflected across the entire industry.
Boycotting the Oscars
After no black nominees for two years running, and all 20 nominees at the 87th Academy Awards were found to be actors and directors of Caucasian descent, there was a conversation about the apparent lack of diversity.
There was an apparent and undue advantage that the Caucasians enjoyed, and this angered people, leading to hashtags such as #WhiteOscars and #OscarSoWhite. There was a big movement on social media about it, and it lead to requests for the Academy to become much more diverse and be a better representation of the people of America.
Qualifying for the Academy Awards
The rules for qualifications were once again changed in order to be more inclusive. In order to qualify for next year’s Academy Awards ceremony, a film must have been opened in the previous calendar year in Los Angeles County.
The only exception to this rule is the Best Foreign Language Film, and usually, when the moviemakers think they have a winner in view, the movie will be released in the year’s last week so it can qualify for the awards. For instance, a movie released in December will qualify for nomination in January of the following year.
Academy members receive ballots
Every late December, the members of the Academy are given ballots to choose their nominees for the upcoming Academy Award ceremony. Usually, Academy members only vote for their peers in most categories, with votes for Best Director coming from directors, and actors voting for Best Actor.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule, and these include the Foreign Film, Animated Feature Film, and Documentary categories which are all handled by special committees that comprise members from across the Academy. In the case of these categories, all Academy members can vote for their choices.
Some big winners
Walt Disney is one of the biggest winners at the Academy Awards, having won more Academy Awards than any other individual, with a total of 26 Oscars to his name. 22 of his Oscars were for his projects, while the remaining 4 were honorary awards.
Edith Head is also quite the big winner, having won more Academy Awards than any other female, with a total of 8 Oscars for her exceptional costume design work. Meryl Streep has been nominated a total of 17 times, which is more than any other actor/actress.
The Oscar used to be so heavy
Although the original design of the Oscar hasn’t changed tremendously over the years, the size of the base has been amended to a more tolerable size. The award is nearly 14 inches tall and it weighs more than 8 pounds, which is on the heavier side of the scale.
Over 3,000 Oscars have been awarded ever since the first award ceremony was held almost a century ago. Composer John Williams, who won five Oscars in his lifetime, could probably have picked up a couple of them and used them as dumbbells.
The non-consensual kiss
Only a year removed from her Oscar win, actress Halle Berry was enlisted to present the award for Best Actor. She announced Adrien Brody as the winner of the category for his role in The Pianist, and in his excitement, he ran onstage and kissed her passionately.
The thing is that kiss happened without any prior consent or warning, and although he was caught up in the excitement of his Oscar win, Halle was confused and shocked, and most importantly, the kiss was non-consensual.
The Academy Awards is a prestigious annual event with lots of opportunities for positive exposure. As a result of this, a lot of movie studios expend significant sums often in the millions of dollars ballpark to hire publicists that will help them promote their projects.
They do this during the Oscar season, and the practice is one that has earned the Academy Awards endless criticism and accusations that marketing is a bigger factor that influences winning at the award ceremony than the quality of work.
The whisper campaign
Another technique that is reportedly employed during the notorious Oscar season is the use of the whisper campaign, which are basically campaigns intended to spread negative details about nominated movies.
The effect of this is that nominated movies are perceived worse, and the ones owned by those that initiate the smear campaign are spared from such negative perceptions. A good example of this strategy is the series of allegations levied against Zero Dark Thirty, with the intention of creating the perception that torture is justified by the project.
No Asian actresses
No Asian woman has ever emerged as the winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress. This proves that the attempts by the Academy to improve its racial, national, and gender biases are glorified distractions because Asian performers aren’t rated any higher now than they were before the historic membership changes the Academy underwent in 2020.
The Golden Globe Awards on the other hand have several winners of Asian descent in leading categories, and so some would argue that that award show is better at recognizing and celebrating diversity.
The disqualified projects
Several movies have seen their nominations for the Academy Awards revoked before the ceremony took place. In 1928, The Circus was officially removed by the Academy from its categories, and Charlie Chaplin was instead given a special award.
In 1953, Hondo was removed from the Best Story ballot after the movie’s inclusion in the category was questioned by letters from the producer. Two years later, High Society was withdrawn from the screenwriting ballot after it was mistaken for a movie of the same name that was released a year after.
The gifting tradition
Over the years, it has become something of a tradition to give out gifts to the performers and presenters at the Oscars. This has been the case over the years, but lately, the award nominees and winners have become included in that category as well.
The gift bags given out at the award ceremony can be worth as much as tens of thousands of dollars. At one point in the mid-2010s, the value of these gift bags was reportedly as much as $80,000, and the IRS even issued a statement about the taxable status of the gifts.
The Dolby Theatre in Hollywood
The Academy Awards ceremonies have been held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood since 2002. The Dolby Theatre used to be known as the Kodak Theatre before Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and the place was subsequently renamed in the wake of all that.
Before the Dolby Theatre became the number one venue of the ceremony, other venues such as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard were used. The Chinese Theatre was used from 1944 to 1946, the Marquis Theatre was used in 1948, and the Los Angeles County Music Center was used in 1969.
The effect of winning an Oscar
One reason the Oscars are so coveted is the fact that winning an Academy Award bestows significant international prestige and recognition on winners. Besides that, an Academy Award triumph also plays a frontline role in the success of the major winners.
For instance, the winner of the Best Picture category will typically experience improved box office earnings in the aftermath of the ceremony. Also, directors and actors that win Academy Awards are paid higher wages, and they get a lot more attention from the media.
Selling Oscar statuettes
While it sounds unusual that Oscar winners would want to sell their coveted awards, the reality is the sale of Oscars happens. Ever since 1950, the winners of the Oscars and their heirs have been mandated to first offer their statuettes to the Academy for a paltry sum of $1 before being allowed to put them on the market for sale.
However, some Oscar winners have been able to sell their statuettes thanks to some loopholes in the rules governing the sale of Oscars. In 2011, Beatrice Welles made $861,542 after putting up the statuette her father won in 1942.