The Academy Awards, aka the Oscars, are awards that are handed out annually to people who work in the film industry to honor artistic and technical achievements. The annual ceremony was created by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and it is the world’s longest-running awards show.
The statuette itself depicting a man holding a sword was designed by Cedric Gibbons and sculpted by L.A. artist George Stanley.
As for its nickname, “Oscar” was officially adopted in 1939 after Academy Executive Secretary Margaret Herrick said that the statuette reminded her of her “Uncle Oscar.” Afterwards employees affectionately referred to the award as “Oscar,” and this was mentioned in a newspaper column by Sidney Skolsky published in 1934. The name caught on with other publications like Time Magazine, and at the 1934 ceremony Walt Disney even thanked the Academy for his “Oscar.” The nickname stuck.
The Academy’s origins began with film producer and MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer, who had made it known that he wanted to create an organization that would pay homage to Hollywood, although the awards aspect was not discussed at first. Initially it was an elite club of actors, directors, writers, producers and technicians having an annual banquet.
Mayer gathered 36 film industry people at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on January 11, 1927 and presented them with the idea of what was then called the “International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,” and everyone in that room would become a founding member.
Although several committees were formed, the one for “Awards of Merit” was not developed into an awards ceremony until 1928. Twelve different awards were created and films from 1927 and 1928 were nominated and selected to win the first Academy Awards, which were presented on May 16, 1929 (90 years ago this month) at the Roosevelt Hotel at 7010 Hollywood Boulevard.
The First Academy Awards were a fifteen-minute ceremony that was shown to an audience of about 270 people and it was hosted by Douglas Fairbanks. After the awards were given, the winners were announced to the public in the newspapers, although every ceremony since then would be broadcast over radio or television. It was first televised in 1953 on NBC, later moving to ABC (ABC gained the full rights to the broadcast of the ceremony in 1975 and currently holds them until the year 2028). Since 2002, the ceremony has taken place at the Dolby Theater.
The categories for the First Academy Awards held in 1929 to honor the films of 1927 and 1928 were as follows:
Wings – winner
Best Unique and Artistic Picture
Sunrise – winner
Best Director of a Comedy
Lewis Milestone, Two Arabian Knights – winner
Ted Wilde – Speedy
Best Director of a Drama
Frank Borzage – 7th Heaven – winner
King Vidor – The Crowd
Herbert Brenon – Sorrell and Son
The first actor and first human being in general to ever win an Oscar was Emil Jannings for both the film The Last Command and the film The Way of All Flesh.
The winner of the first Oscar for Best Actress was Janet Gaynor for three different films at the same time: 7th Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise.
Best Original Story
Underworld written by Ben Hecht.
7th Heaven adapted by Benjamin Glazer from the play by Austin Strong.
Best Art Direction
William Cameron Menzies for the films The Dove and Tempest.
Charles Rosher and Karl Struss for Sunrise.
Best Engineering Effects
Roy Pomeroy for Wings
Best Title Writing
Joseph W. Farnham for no specific film.
In addition to these twelve awards, Charlie Chaplin was given an honorary award for his film The Circus, and the Warner Brothers were given an honorary award for pioneering sound with the film The Jazz Singer in 1927.
The Best Unique and Artistic feature category was created to honor prestige art films that were less popular than the films honored in the Outstanding Picture category, but they eventually decided to combine the two categories into Best Picture.
As we all know, additional categories had been introduced to the ceremony over the years:
- Best Sound Mixing was introduced in the 1929/30 ceremony.
- Best Animated Short Film was introduced in 1930/31.
- Best Live Action Short Film was introduced in 1931/32.
- Best Film Editing was introduced in 1934.
- Best Original Song and Best Original Score were introduced in 1934.
- Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress were introduced in 1936.
- Best Visual Effects were introduced in 1939.
- Best Documentary Short Subject was introduced in 1941.
- Best Documentary Feature was introduced in 1943.
- Best International Feature Film was introduced in 1947. Later renamed Best Foreign Language Film in 1957 at the 29th ceremony.
- Best Costume Design was introduced in 1948.
- Best Sound Editing was introduced in 1963.
- Best Makeup and Hairstyling was introduced in 1981.
- Best Animated Feature was introduced in 2001.
Honorary Governors Awards include the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for creative producers demonstrating consistent quality, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and the Student Academy Awards.
The In Memoriam segment was introduced in 1993.
Each ceremony has traditionally been hosted by a comedian, the comedian hosting the most times being Bob Hope who holds the record at 19 times, with Billy Crystal in second place at 9 times and Johnny Carson in third place with 5 times.
The voting board for the ceremony is made up of thousands of members who are divided by branches, the branch for actors being the largest. People in the film industry can only become members if they are invited by the Board of Governors.
The Oscars are the most prestigious film awards in Hollywood and they are the apex of respect among the Hollywood elite.