The History of the Academy Awards

In the 80-plus years the Oscars have been around, the ceremony has grown just as rapidly as the films they honor. From a humble beginning as a yearly banquet, the Oscars have now become a world wide event – they’re the Super Bowl of movies.

The very first ceremony was on May 16, 1929, and there were only about 200 people in attendance. The awards were given at a dinner filled with long speeches, but that was the extent of the celebration. Furthermore, the winners had been announced months before, but in the following year the Academy decided to up the suspense and not reveal the winners at all until the ceremony. Newspapers, of course, were given a list of winners in advance so they could publish the results quickly. However, in 1940 the Los Angeles Times leaked the winners’ names early, so the Academy turned to the sealed envelope, which is still used today.

Fifteen categories were honored at the first Oscars, and the first Best Actor was a German named Emil Jannings (“The Way of All Flesh” and “The Last Command”). The Best Picture was “Wings,” (a film about World War I fighter pilots). Best Drama Director was Frank Borzage, Best Comedy Director was Lewis Milestone and Best Actress was Janet Gaynor. This was the only time there was a separate award for Drama and Comedy director.

Even though the first Oscars weren’t a big deal, by the second Oscars the media was very interested and the ceremony was broadcasted on the radio. It continued to be held as a banquet, but by 1942 there wasn’t enough space for all the attendees, so starting with the 16th ceremony the Oscars took place in a theater. In 1953, the Oscars were aired on TV for the first time and since 1969 the broadcast has been international.

Throughout the years, categories have come and gone, and many outstanding films were recognized. In 1931, Scientific and Technical awards were presented for the first time. In 1933, the Academy changed the eligibility year so that it matched the calendar year. Thirteen categories were awarded, including a new category for assistant directors.

Two categories for music, Scoring and Song, were added in 1934 along with an award for editing. Awards for Supporting Actor and Actress appeared in 1936, and Walt Disney won his 5th straight award for best cartoon of the year. In 1940, “Gone with the Wind” won eight awards and Bob Hope was the master of ceremonies for the first time. He remained in that position until 1979 when Johnny Carson took over.

The history of the Oscars is just as dynamic as the films they honor. As long as films keep evolving, so will the ceremony.


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