HISTORY OF THE ACADEMY AWARDS ® PRESENTATION
When the first Academy Awards were handed out on May 16, 1929, movies had just begun to talk. That first ceremony took place during an Academy banquet in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
The attendance was 270 and guest tickets cost $5. It was a long banquet, filled with speeches, but presentation of the statuettes was handled expeditiously by Academy President Douglas Fairbanks.
The suspense that now touches most of the world at Oscar® time was not always a characteristic of the Awards presentation. That first year, the award recipients were announced to the public three months ahead of the ceremony.
For the next decade, the results were given in advance to newspapers for publication at 11 p.m. on the night of the Awards. But in 1940, much to the Academy’s dismay, the Los Angeles Times broke the embargo and announced the winning achievements in its evening edition, which was readily available to guests arriving for the affair.
As a result, the Academy adopted the sealed-envelope system the next year, and the system remains in use today.
Since the earliest years, interest in the Academy Awards has run high, if not at the modern fever pitch. The first presentation was the only one to escape a media audience; by the second year, enthusiasm for the Awards was such that a Los Angeles radio station actually did a live one-hour broadcast of the event. The ceremony has had broadcast coverage ever since.
For 15 years the Academy Awards presentations were banquet affairs; after the first at the Hollywood Roosevelt, they were held at the Ambassador and Biltmore hotels. The custom of presenting the statuettes at a banquet was discontinued after the 1942 Awards. Increased attendance and the war had made banquets impractical, and the presentation ceremonies have since been held in theaters.
The 16th Awards ceremony was held at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. It was covered by network radio for the first time and broadcast overseas to American GIs. The Awards stayed at Grauman’s for three years, then moved to the Shrine Civic Auditorium.
Two years later, in March 1949, the 21st Awards ceremony took place in the Academy’s own Melrose Avenue theater.
For the next 11 years, the annual Awards were held at the RKO Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. It was there, on March 19, 1953, that the Academy Awards Presentation was first televised. The NBC-TV and radio network carried the 25th Academy Awards ceremonies live from Hollywood with Bob Hope as master of ceremonies, and from the NBC International Theatre in New York with Fredric March making the presentations.
In 1961 the Awards moved to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, and for the subsequent 10 years, the ABC-TV network handled the broadcasting duties. In 1966 the Oscars ® were first broadcast in color. From 1971 through 1975, the NBC-TV network carried the Awards. ABC has telecast the show since 1976 and is under contract through 2014.
On April 14, 1969, the 41st Academy Awards ceremonies moved to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles County Music Center. It was the first major event for this now world-renowned cultural center.
The Awards remained at the Music Center until 1987, then the ceremonies returned to the Shrine Auditorium for the 60th and 61st Awards. For a dozen years, the event alternated venues the 62nd, 64th, 65th, 66th, 68th and 71st Awards were held at the Music Center, while the 63rd, 67th, 69th, 70th, 72nd and 73rd were at the Shrine.
In the first year, 15 statuettes were awarded (all of them to men except for the Best Actress award, which went to Janet Gaynor), but in the second year the number of awards was reduced to seven two for acting and one each for Outstanding Picture,
Directing, Writing, Cinematography and Art Direction. Since then, the number of award categories has grown slowly but steadily.
The need for special awards beyond standard categories was recognized from the start. Two were awarded for the 1927/28 year: one went to Warner Bros. for producing the groundbreaking talking picture “The Jazz Singer,” and the other went to Charles Chaplin for producing, directing, writing and starring in “The Circus.”
In 1934 three new regular categories were added: Film Editing, Music Score and Song. That year also brought a write-in campaign to nominate Bette Davis for her performance in “Of Human Bondage.” The Academy now has a rule forbidding writeins on the final ballot.
The accounting firm of Price Waterhouse signed with the Academy in 1934 and has been employed ever since to tabulate and ensure the secrecy of the results. The ballots for the 79th Awards will be tabulated by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the name adopted by the firm in 1998.
In 1936 the first Academy Awards were presented in the Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress categories. The honors went to Walter Brennan for “Come and Get It” and Gale Sondergaard for “Anthony Adverse.” The first presentation of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award was made in 1937, with the honor going to Darryl F. Zanuck.
The Academy Award® for Special Effects was added in 1939 and was first won by Fred Sersen and E. H. Hansen of 20th Century-Fox for “The Rains Came.” In 1963 the Special Effects award was split into two: Sound Effects and Special Visual Effects, in recognition of the fact that the best sound effects and best visual effects did not necessarily come from the same film.
In 1941 the documentary film category appeared on the ballot for the first time.
In 1947, before television increased the rest of the world’s interest in the Awards ceremonies, the Academy brought films from non-English-speaking countries into Oscar’s sphere. That year the first award to honor a foreign language motion picture was given to the Italian film “Shoe-Shine.” Seven more special awards were presented before Foreign Language Film became a regular category in 1956.
In 1948 the Academy gave Costume Design a place on the ballot. The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award
In 2001 the Academy added a new category, Best Animated Feature Film.
There have been only three circumstances that prevented the Academy Awards presentation from going off as scheduled. The first was in 1938, when destructive floods all but washed out Los Angeles and delayed the ceremony one week.
In 1968 the Awards ceremony was postponed from April 8 to April 10 out of respect for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who had been assassinated a few days earlier, and whose funeral was held on April 9. In 1981 the Awards were postponed for 24 hours because of the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.
In 2003, when U.S. forces invaded Iraq the Thursday before the telecast, the show went on, but the red carpet was limited to the area immediately in front of the theater entrance, the red carpet bleachers were eliminated and the bulk of the world’s press was disinvited.
In 2004 the red carpet was back in all its glitz and glamour. Attendance at the Academy Awards ceremony is by invitation only. No tickets are put on public sale.
“Oscar ®,” “Oscars ®,” “Academy Awards®,” “Academy Award®,” “A.M.P.A.S. ®” and “Oscar Night ®” are the trademarks, and the © Oscar ® statuette is the registered design mark and copyrighted property, of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
2008 Film Entertainment Magazine / EMOL.org
Film Entertainment Magazine