May 16, 1929: First Academy Awards presentation and banquet held in Hollywood
The Academy Awards is Hollywood’s biggest night, but the awards have changed over the years. On May 16, 1929, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences held its first awards in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. It was a dinner party with just 250 guests and the awards were announced before the ceremony. And the Oscar goes to…
The era of silent films
Today’s movie fans would find it hard to believe that there were once movies without sound. But that was the reality of the 1920s in which, apart from live theatre and radio, silent films were the only form of entertainment.
The first Academy Awards on May 16, 1929, focused on silent films. In fact, the 1927 film The Jazz Singer, one of the first films with sound, wasn’t eligible for the Best Picture award because it wouldn’t be fair for movies with sound to compete with silent films.
And the Oscar goes to…
One difference between today’s Academy Awards and the ceremony in 1929 was that the winners were announced long before the event. Wings became the first official Best Picture winner and the only silent film to win Best Picture. The most expensive film of its time, the movie (directed by William Wellman) told the story of two World War I pilots who fall in love with the same woman. German actor Emil Jannings became the first official Best Actor winner for his roles in two films: The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh. Janet Gaynor, just 22 years old, was the first official Best Actress winner for her roles in three films: 7th Heaven, Street Angel, and Sunrise.
Honoring Charlie Chaplin
When you think of silent films actors, Charlie Chaplin usually comes to mind, so it’s probably surprising he wasn’t awarded the Best Actor honor. He was originally a nominee for Best Actor, Best Writer and Best Comedy Director for his 1929 film, The Circus. But Chaplin was removed from these categories so he could receive a special honorary award. But the Academy Awards have changed significantly since 1929. It gained its nicknamed, the Oscars, in 1939, after executive director Margaret Herrick remarked the statuette resembled her Uncle Oscar. Starting in 1942, winners were announced at the ceremony, making it more of a prestigious honor. The rest is history.