The Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, are the oldest, most prestigious, and most recognized of film award ceremonies. The award show occurs annually in Hollywood, now with television coverage in over 200 countries. The first award ceremony took place on May 16, 1929. It was put on by the non-profit professional organization known as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), which was organized in May 1927 to advance and improve the film industry. The first show took place at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and tickets were $5. Fewer than 250 people showed up in the hotel’s Blossom Room, along with the Academy’s 36 members. Actor and Academy President Douglas Fairbanks Sr. handed out fifteen statuettes for distinguishable excellence for the 1927-1928 film years at the ceremony, although the winners had already been announced three months prior. The next year, and for the first decade, results were given to newspapers to publish at 11pm the night of the show. This method was employed until the Los Angeles Times announced the winners before the awards were given out, and as a result, since 1941 the winners’ names have sealed in an envelope and only revealed during the show itself. Because of this, “the envelope please” has become a common phrase that seems to evoke thoughts of the Academy Awards.
The first award ceremony, in addition to the six following it, covered films from two calendar years. However, since the seventh award ceremony, the period of eligibility has been reduced to one year – the period from January 1 to December 31 of the year before.
At the time of the first award ceremony, sound had just been introduced to film. Due to this, talkie pictures were not allowed to be Best Picture, since the Academy felt it was unfair to make a silent film compete with a sound one. The pioneering talkie “The Jazz Singer” (1927) was consequently given an Honorary Award, since it could not be placed in the running. The first Best Picture winner was “Wings” (1927) (the only silent picture to ever win Best Picture), directed by William Wellman. The first Best Actor awarded was acclaimed German tragedian Emil Jannings, for his roles in “The Way of All Flesh” (1927) and “The Last Command” (1928). He was in Europe at the time of the ceremony, and was granted his request to receive his award early. This made him the first person to ever receive an Academy Award. Janet Gaynor became the first Best Actress, for her performances in “7th Heaven” (1927), “Sunrise” (1927), and “Street Angel” (1928). Charlie Chaplin was removed as a nominee for his nomination for 1928’s “The Circus” (a change many believed was due to his unpopularity in Hollywood) and instead given an Honorary Award for his “versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing, and producing”.
The first award ceremony was the only to evade media attention; by year two, the ceremony created so much enthusiasm that a Los Angeles radio station broadcast the event. Ever since, the award show has been broadcasted every year and draws much attention. In 1953 the Academy Awards found its first television appearance, enabling millions of Americans and Canadians to view the proceedings. Color broadcasting began in 1966, enhancing the experience. 1969 brought the ceremony to international televisions, so now fans all over the world can enjoy the film industry’s biggest night.
In 1939 the Academy officially began using the nickname Oscar for its awards. Where the name Oscar came from is often contested; a biography of Bette Davis claims she named the award after her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson. Another source maintains that the Academy’s Executive Secretary, Margaret Herrick, remarked that the statuette looked like her Uncle Oscar.
The ceremony has changed venues and dates many times as well. From 1930-1943, the location switched between the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard and the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. From 1944-1946, Grauman’s Chinese Theater hosted the event, followed by the Shrine Auditorium from 1947-1948. The 21st Academy Awards were held at the Academy’s headquarters, and then from 1950-1960 they took place at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre. With the arrival of television, 1953-1957’s ceremonies occurred in both Hollywood and New York at NBC International Theatre (1953) and then at the NBC Century Theater (1954-1957). For the next years of the awards show, the event took place in various spots in Los Angeles. In 2002, the Kodak Theatre became the Oscar’s permanent home. The venue’s name has since been changed to the Dolby Theatre.
Nine actors tie for most Best Actor Oscars (Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Marlon Brando, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Sean Penn), each with two wins. Jack Nicholson remains the most nominated actor, with twelve nods. Katharine Hepburn continues to be the only female with four Best Actress Academy Awards, with Meryl Streep having the most nominations (seventeen). Three films are tied for most awards won, at eleven: William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur” (1959), James Cameron’s “Titanic ” (1997), and Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003).
The youngest star to win an award from the Academy was Shirley Temple at age five in 1934 (it was an Honorary Award), while ten year old Tatum O'Neal was the youngest actor to win the standard Oscar. She won Best Supporting Actress in 1973’s “Paper Moon”. The oldest Academy Award winner is eighty three year old Groucho Marx, bestowed an Honorary Award in 1973. Jessica Tandy is the oldest actress to win an Oscar, for her performance in 1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy ”. Fran Walsh is the only woman to have ever won three Academy Awards in a single year, for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003). She received awards for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Song.
Two of Hollywood’s families have three generations of Oscar winners in their ranks: the Huston Family, with Walter Huston (Best Supporting Actor in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre ” (1948)), John Huston (Best Director for “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre ” (1948)), and Anjelica Huston (Best Supporting Actress in “Prizzi’s Honor” (1985)), and the Coppola Family, with Carmine Coppola (Best Dramatic Score for “The Godfather: Part II” (1974)), Francis Ford Coppola (Best Writing in “Patton” (1970), Best Writing in “The Godfather” (1972), Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing for “The Godfather: Part II” (1974), and an Irving G. Thalberg Award) and Sofia Coppola (Best Writing in “Lost in Translation” (2003)). Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew, Nicholas Cage, has also earned an Oscar for Best Leading Actor in 1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas”. Liza Minnelli (Best Actress in “Cabaret” (1972)) is the only Academy Award winner whose parents, Judy Garland (1940’s Juvenile Award) and Vincente Minnelli (Best Director for “Gigi” (1949)), both also boast the honor. The only twins to win Oscars are Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein, who share a Best Screenplay Award for “Casablanca” (1942).
Academy Awards Best Picture Winners