The Academy Awards Begin

On this day in 1935, Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night” sweeps the top categories at the seventh Academy Awards held in the Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles. Winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay, it was the first such sweep and would not be repeated again until 1976’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded in 1927, the awards committee was only one of several that had been formed by the new organization.The idea of presenting awards was considered but not immediately pursued, as the academy was preoccupied with its role in labor issues, its efforts to improve the tarnished image of the film industry, and its function as a clearinghouse for the exchange of ideas on production procedures and new technologies.

The 1st Academy Awards ceremony honored the best films of 1927 and 1928 and took place on May 16, 1929, at a private dinner held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles, California. AMPAS president Douglas Fairbanks hosted the show, tickets cost $5, 270, people attended the event and the presentation ceremony lasted 15 minutes. Notable winners at the ceremony included “7th Heaven” and “Sunrise,” which each received three awards, and “Wings,” the Howard Hughes aerial spectacle. Emil Jannings, was given the Best Actor award for his work in both “The Way of All Flesh” and “The Last Command”; Charlie Chaplin and Warner Brothers each received an Honorary Award.

Back to 1935, for the first time, the Academy standardized the practice defining the award eligibility period for a film as the preceding calendar year, causing the perennial “Oscar Dump” every Fall. This was also the first of only two years in which write-in candidates were allowed by the Academy as a tacit response to controversy surrounding the snub of pugnacious Bette Davis’ performance in “Of Human Bondage.” The categories of Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song were first introduced this year, with “One Night of Love” and “The Gay Divorcee” taking the last two prizes, respectively.

1935 was the last time that Best Actor were all first time nominees, as well as the last time until the 43rd Academy Awards where either leading acting category had all first time nominees. (Lead actress that year were all first timers for the only time since the 2nd Academy Awards). Shirley Temple received the first Juvenile Award at age six, making her the youngest Oscar recipient ever.

In the early going of the Oscars, the names of the award winners had been given to the press in advance with the stipulation that the information not be revealed until after the awards presentation. However, the Los Angeles Times printed the names of the 1939 winners in an early evening edition before the ceremony, draining the event of all its suspense during one of the industry’s biggest years. Thus, since then, the winners’ names have been a closely guarded secret until the official announcement at the awards ceremony.

And as our silvery story endeth in 2020, do you agree with the President’s yearning for American winners with American values, when he recently said “can we get ‘Gone With the Wind’ back please?

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.