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The First Academy Awards

As we approach another exciting Oscar season filled with dynamic performers and their films, it is interesting to see how the Academy Awards has evolved into the spectacle it is now.

The inception of the Academy Awards happened on the night of May 16, 1929 in the Blossom Room at the Roosevelt Hotel. It was not a ceremony but a banquet for the winners that were announced three months prior to the big night. The entire banquet lasted fifteen minutes where the winners went home with their Oscars and the nominees were given “Honorable Mention” certificates.

The hosts of that Awards were actor Douglas Fairbanks and director William C. De Mille, and 250 people gathered to honor the recipients and nominees. Three films would be the big winners of the night including “Sunrise: A Song between Two Humans” (1927), “Wings” (1928) – each film took home two Oscars with “7th Heaven” (1927) edging out with three Oscars.

It is often expected and deemed rude behavior for nominees to be absent when they are announced as the winner. This type of incident has followed the Academy Awards since the first year. Swiss Actor Emile Jannings won the first “Best Actor in a Starring Role” Oscar for two of his performances but he was given his statuette one month prior to the banquet. Jannings’ excuse was that he was leaving for his home country. He was also the first non-American actor to win an Oscar.

Some of the Academy’s categories have changed over the years, too. The “Best Writing: Title Writing” category would only be given the first year and would never be used again. The nominees for this category were recognized for creating dialogue titles for silent films. Joseph Farnham is the only person to have ever won this award. The “Interior Decoration” category also appeared at the time but instead of becoming an eliminated category, the name was adjusted and became the “Best Art Direction” category. William Cameron Menzies was the first to win this award for two films he had done, “The Dove” (1927) and “The Tempest” (1928).

The “Best Picture” category was separated into two awards; one for “Unique and Artistic Production” which went to Fox Studios for “Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans” (1927) and “Best Picture Production” which went to “Paramount Famous Lasky” for “Wings” (1928). Today, we have the “Best Picture of the Year” category. The first Honorary Awards were presented to the legendary actor/director/writer Charlie Chaplin and his production of “The Circus” (1928) and to Warner Bros Studios for producing “The Jazz Singer” (1928).

It is unfortunate as well as ironic that the first Academy Awards was not recorded by any media to be saved for future generations. Due to the public’s interest in the ceremony, the Second Academy Awards ceremony was broadcast over the radio. In 2008, silent film actress Anita Page who was the last of the still-living attendees, passed away at the age of 98.

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