The Oscars started out as an afterthought.
When Louis B. Mayer first proposed setting up what would become the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1927, he wasn’t really that interested in giving out awards. Instead, he saw the Academy as an organization that would mediate labor disputes between the studios and the unions. He also felt that the Academy could basically be used to improve the film industry’s image, which had taken a hit from the rape trial of Fatty Arbuckle, the overdose of Wallace Reid, and the murder of William Desmond Taylor. When he and the other 35 founders of the Academy met to draw up the organization’s charter, the idea of giving out awards was mentioned only in passing. A committee would be set up to give out yearly awards to honor the best that Hollywood had to offer.
The first Academy Awards ceremony was held in a hotel ballroom in 1928. It occurred at the end of a private dinner and the awards were handed out in 15 minutes. The 2nd ceremony was the first to be broadcast on the radio. It was only when the Academy got around to the third ceremony that the Oscars started to transform into the spectacle that we know today. It was only then that people started to really pay attention to what was and was not nominated for Best Picture.
Today, for Oscar Sunday, we’re taking a a decade-by-decade look at the Best Picture races of the past. We start with those first three ceremonies.
Uniquely, the very first Academy Awards saw the presentation for two best picture trophies. Best Production went to the most entertaining film. Unique and Artistic Production went to the most artistic film.
Unique and Artistic Production
Won: Wings and Sunrise
Should Have Won: The first time out, the Oscars got it right. People tend to be a bit dismissive of Wings but it has that one amazing tracking shot and it also features the wonderful Clara Bow. Sunrise, meanwhile, is a triumph in every way. Among the eligible films not nominated: Buster Keaton’s The General and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
Uniquely, only the winners were announced for the 2nd awards ceremony. The “nominees” listed below are taken from a list of notes that were taken while the judges were discussing who and what to honor.
Won: The Broadway Melody
Should Have Won: The Broadway Melody was the first musical to win but it’s aged terribly. I actually prefer The Hollywood Revue of 1929, which has no plot but which does feature a bunch of MGM stars singing, dancing, and showing off that they were having no problem transitioning for silent cinema to sound films. Or, at least, that was the idea. Poor John Gilbert.
Won: All Quiet On The Western Front
Should Have Won: All Quiet On The Western Front. Third time out, the Academy got it right.
Up next, the Stock Market crashes and we enter a scary new decade in American history. In about an hour, we’ll be taking a look at the 1930s!