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The Very First Academy Awards

It was way back in the last century in 1927 that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded. At that time there were seven members who created the first Academy Awards presentation and all films produced from August 1, 1927 through July 31, 1928, would be eligible. I’m sure this was a most exciting time for actors and actresses because they would finally get the rewards and honor they deserved for all of their hard work and for all the pleasure they gave their fans.

The first Academy Awards ceremony was held on May 16, 1929. It was a black-tie banquet which was held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and a total of 250 people attended. It was hosted by AMPAS ( Academy of  Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) president Douglas Fairbanks The winners had already been announced to the press three months before. You’re probably wondering what was on the menu. Well, I would have guessed steak, caviar, and champagne. Instead, the dinner consisted of Filet of Sole Sauté au Beurre and Half Broiled Chicken on Toast.

The president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at that time was actor Douglas Fairbanks, who gave a speech. Afterward, the Film Director William C. de Mille assisted him in handing out the awards. Fairbanks called out the winners to come up to the head table and de Mille gave them their awards.  The statue which was presented then was almost identical to the one which is presented today and was sculpted by George Stanley. People know that the statue is called the Oscar but actually its full name is The Academy Award of Merit. Oscar is a knight made out of solid bronze; he’s holding a sword and standing on top of a film reel.

An interesting fact is that the very first person to receive an Oscar did not come to the first Academy Awards ceremony. The winner for Best Actor that year was Emil Jannings, he decided to return to his homeland Germany before the ceremony and was given his award before he left.

So that leaves us to take a look at who the other winners were:

The 1927-1928 Academy Award Winners

  • Picture (Production): Wings – Wings was a movie about two young men. One was from a rich family and one was from the middle class. They both fall in love with the same woman and become fighter pilots in WW I. This movie starred actress Clara Bow and the men were played by Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Richard Arlen and Gary Cooper.
  • Picture (Unique and Artistic Production): Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. This movie was about a married farmer who falls for a slatternly woman from the city. This woman tries to convince him to drown his wife. The stars of the picture were George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor.

Best Actor: Emil Jannings (The Last Command; The Way of All Flesh) The Last Command was a movie about a former Imperial Russian general and cousin to the Czar. He winds up in Hollywood working as an extra in a movie which happens to be directed by a former revolutionary.
  • The Way of All Flesh was about a bank clerk called August Schiller and takes place in Milwaukee in the early 1900s. Schiller is content with his job and his family. Then he is assigned to transport $1000 in securities to Chicago and the rest of the movie is about his adventures. Both were silent black and white films.

Best Actress: Janet Gaynor (Seventh Heaven; Street Angel; Sunrise) Seventh Heaven is a movie about a Parisian sewer worker who rescues a girl (played by Janet Gaynor) from the police and then lives with her in a barren flat located on the seventh floor before marching off to war.
  • Street Angel is a movie about a woman who is on the run from the law. Just as she is about to find true happiness her past catches up with her. You can see reference to Sunrise above.
  • Director: Frank Borzage (Seventh Heaven) / Lewis Milestone (Two Arabian Knights) Two Arabian Knights was about two American soldiers captured by the Germans on the Western Front in WWI. The manage to escape a POW camp but wind up in all sorts of life-threatening situations and while on the run they meet up with an Arabian king’s daughter. This movie starred William Boyd and Mary Astor.
  • Adapted Screenplay: Benjamin Glazer (Seventh Heaven)
  • Original Story: Ben Hecht (Underworld) The movie title was actually Romance of the Underworld and starred Mary Astor. It was a movie about a gangster whose speakeasy is raided by the police and one of the people the police pick up is the gangster’s pretty girlfriend. The rest of the story is about what happens when a cop helps the girl get out of that kind of life.
  • Cinematography: Sunrise

Interior Decoration: The Dove / The Tempest The Dove was a 60-minute film also known as The Scarlett Dove.
  • The Tempest was a movie set in Czarist Russia where a peasant office who is resented by the aristocrats falls in love with a princess. It starred John Barrymore and Camilla Horn.

Hope you found this look into the early world of the movies as fascinating as I did. I’m sure that a great many of you have never heard of either these movies or actors. They are all before my time too but being a great movie fan I have learned about the actors and actresses of that time. Of course, this would not have been complete without an explanation about the movies. If I have caught your interest I plan on taking a look at the Academy Awards of other years as well.


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