History on Air

History Podcast and Blog Blog RSS Feed Follow us on Twitter Friend us on Facebook Watch Us on YouTube

25 February

The Very First Academy Awards Ceremony 1929


Every year we gather around our television sets to watch Academy Awards (this year Sunday, Feb 27 8PM EST, 5PM EST on ABC), also called the Oscars. This awards ceremony was developed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to recognize those working in the film industry who have performed their job excellently. The formal ceremony is televised to over 200 countries and is the oldest award ceremony in media.

The Academy itself is composed of roughly 6,000 film industry professionals from around the world; however the majority are based in the United States. The idea of the AMPAS began with the then head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Louis B. Mayer. The original goal of the organization was to mediate labor disputes and improve the industry’s image.

Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. was elected as the first president of the Academy. One of his first jobs was to bestow awards of merit for distinct achievement. Mayer asked MGM art director, Cedric Gibbons to design the now famous Oscar trophy. Sculptor George Stanley was paid $500 to execute the original statue from Gibbons’ design. Trivia tidbit: Because of a metal shortage during World War II, Oscar statuettes were made of painted plaster. The very first ever Academy Awards nominees were notified via telegram in February 1928. The awards would be for films made in 1927 and 1928.

The Ceremony was held on May 16, 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles, California. 207 people showed up. They paid $5 a ticket. It was not broadcast on radio or television; however, fans of the celebrities did show up to watch them step out of their luxury vehicles. Douglas Fairbanks, the president of the Academy, made the official award presentations. Twelve awards were presented at the dinner and 20 additional certificates of honorable mention were given to runners-up in each awards category.

And the winners were…

Best Picture – Wings

Unique and Artistic Production – Sunrise – A Song of Two Humans

Best Director, Comedy Picture – Lewis Milestone for Two Arabian Knights

Best Director, Dramatic Picture – Frank Borzage for 7th Heaven

Best Actor in a Leading Role – Emil Jannings for The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh

Best Actress in a Leading Role – Janet Gaynor for 7th Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise – A Song of Two Humans

Best Writing, Original Story – Ben Hecht for Underworld

Best Writing, Adapted Story – Benjamin Glazer for 7th Heaven

Best Cinematography – Charles Rosher and Karl Struss for Sunrise – A Song of Two Humans

Best Art Direction – William Cameron Menzies for The Dove and Tempest

Best Engineering Effects – Roy Pomeroy for Wings

Best Writing, Title Writing – Joseph Farnham (no specific film)

Honorary Awards

Charles Chaplin “For versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus “.

Warner Brothers Production “For producing The Jazz Singer, the pioneer outstanding talking picture, which has revolutionized the industry”