Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Academy Awards 1927-1928. The Beginning.

As Oscar season approaches I thought I would try out a new segment showcasing the Academy Awards from their inception in 1927-28 through the 1940's.  With interesting facts on each ceremony, the nominee's, those who were over looked and how it all began.  So I hope you will join me weekly and voice your opinions as we go along on the Gold Man's journey.  Next week will be on the Oscars from 1929 and so on each week until we reach 1950.  (I don't have anything against 1950 and later but for the purposes of this blog and the stars of the Silents through the 1940's thats where I shall stop).

How it all began:

The Academy itself was officially founded as a California non-profit corporation on May 4th, 1927 by a few dozen Hollywood power hitters.  It had it's origins as a labor dispute mechanism but quickly blossomed into an institution interested in improving the image of the movie business.  Douglas Fairbanks was it's first President and founder along with his wife Mary Pickford, studio honcho Louis B. Mayer, set designer Cedric Gibbons and others who paid $100 each to join.

The creation of the award itself occurred within a week of it's establishment at a banquet on May 11th, 1927 when Mayer suggested that the Academy and the industry bring itself artistic distinction by handing out self congratulatory awards to it's industry fellows.

The Statuette:

Cedric Gibbons, an MGM art director, hastily sketched the design of the statuette that would become the enduring icon of quality, ego, kitsch and glamour.  A naked man holding a sword, standing atop a reel of film who's five spokes signified the original five branches of the Academy (actors, directors, producers, writers and technicians).  The statuette was sculpted by George Stanley in 1928.  For the first few years the statue was cast in bronze with gold plating.  It has had it's current makeup since 1930.  The reel was Belgium black marble until 1945 when the base was made of metal during WWII.

Oscar is 13 1/2 inches tall with 3 inches of it as base.  It weighs 8 1/2 pounds and it's materials are Britannia metal alloy, then copper, nickel, silver with a 24-karat gold plating finish.

The First Ceremony:

The first awards were presented on May 16th, 1929 at the Roosevelt Hotel.  Tickets cost $10 to attend and the ceremony lasted a total of five minutes.  Of course there was no suspense as the winners were named three months earlier. This is the only Academy Award ceremony were the event wasn't broadcast in some way.

Nominees For 1927-1928:

Best Picture (Production):
Wings (Winner), The Racket,  Seventh Heaven,  The Way of The Flesh, The Last Commandment, (The Crowd and Sunrise were nominated under Unique and Artistic Picture.  (The Way of All Flesh and The Last Command have both been removed from recent nominee lists)

Clara Bow in "Wings" 
Charles Buddy Rogers, Clara Bow and Richard Arlen "Wings" 1927

Best Actor And Nominees:

Emil Jannings (Winner) for "The Way of All Flesh" and "The Last Command", Richard Barthelmess in "The Noose" and "The Patent Leather Kid",  Charlie Chaplin was removed from the list due to receiving a special award that year but more on that to follow.

Emil Jannings in "The Last Command"

Best Actress And Nominees:

Janet Gaynor (Winner) for "Seventh Heaven" and "Street Angel", Louise Dresser in "A Ship Comes In", Gloria Swanson in "Sadie Thompson".

Janet Gaynor with Charles Farrell in "Seventh Heaven"

Drama Direction:
Frank Borzage (Winner) for "Seventh Heaven", Herbert Brenon for "Sorrell And Son", King Vidor for "The Crowd"

"Seventh (7th) Heaven" Best Director Frank Borzage

 Comedy Direction:

Lewis Milestone (Winner) for "Two Arabian Knights", Ted Wilde for "Speedy", Charlie Chaplin was originally nominated in this category but was removed and given an Honorary Oscar for his collaboration of work.

"Two Arabian Knights" director Lewis Milestone

Oscars 1927-28 Fun Facts:

In the first ceremony one winner and two runner ups were named.  Instead of nominees they were announced as Honorees. 

This was the first and only year that Oscars were given for multiple achievements instead of a single achievement.

The Oscars were born on the same year that sound was born.  "The Jazz Singer" was given a Special Award for Best Writing even though it was left out of the main categories.  The Academy members didn't feel it would be fair for Silent movies and Talkies to compete against one another.

Four of the five nominated films were from Paramount Studios.

"The Crowd" won a Best Picture Oscar under unique and artistic production so in actuality two films won Best Picture that first year.  Thankfully the Nominations and Categories have become a lot less complicated even though the ceremony lasts over two hours and give awards for everything but the Best Kraft Service Catering. 

Janet Gaynor was the only female winner the first year and the youngest female winner at 21 until Marlee Matlin won her Oscar in 1986.

Charlie Chaplin was the first honorary awardee with a Special Award for writing, directing, acting and producing of "The Circus".  So Charlie's nominations were removed from all categories in order to receive this award.

Mary Pickford wasn't interested in being nominated the first year for her role in "My Best Girl" but could have been.

Buster Keaton was snubbed for his role in "The General" which was considered one of his best roles.

Founder Douglas Fairbanks served as the first MC for the Oscar ceremony and Darryl Zanuck gave the only speech.

Even though there have been many rumors about how "Oscar" got it's name the only documented story is from columnist Skolsky who maintained that the name came from an old movie hall joke "Will you have a cigar, Oscar"

"Sadie Thompson" was the first of three Oscar nominations for Gloria Swanson.  Unfortunately she never won.

Special Oscar Award winner Charlie Chaplin for "The Circus" 1928 with co-star Merna Kennedy

Oscar founder Douglas Fairbanks giving Janet Gaynor her Oscar Award

Well thats my first installment of The Academy Awards and I look forward to your feedback.  I will be back to blogging about my memorabilia soon.  Thanks for stopping by

The Roosevelt Hotel as it looked in 1929 for the first Academy Award ceremony.

A view inside the 1927-28 Academy Award banquet in the Roosevelt ballroom

*For more on Janet Gaynor I have blogged about her previously and it can be found in my October posts.  Stay tuned for posts on Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, Richard Arlen and Buddy Rogers in the near future.  who were mentioned in this post.

**Source:  The Envelope Please by Arnold Jones

Please enjoy the trailer for the first Academy Award winning movie "Wings"



  1. I just started reading your blog and I love it! It's so fun to read about all the great stars of Hollywood past and you do a nice job of detailing their lives and careers with awesome photographs! Well done Page!

  2. Thanks so much Tess! I'm glad you're enjoying it and I love to hear about your personal stories, comments on your favorite films or stars of the day. It's been random and a lot of fun getting my collection out there. So far I've had a really nice welcome from others who have a passion for Old Hollywood and I'm meeting some great people. I hope you will keep coming back and theres a lot of posts archived that you might enjoy.