Behind The Oscar: The History of the Academy Awards

March 30th, 2012

Each year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences holds a ceremony to honor the best films, filmmakers, technicians, and actors in movies. In the eight-decade history of the award, 2,809 statues have been presented to some of the most recognized and talented faces in Hollywood.

First Academy Awards Presentation

The first Academy Awards presentation was held on May 16, 1929. Films released between August 1, 1927, and August 1, 1928, were eligible for nomination. The ceremony was held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in the Blossom Room. The formal dinner where the awards were given to the winners was attended by 270 people. Tickets for guests at this first Academy Awards ceremony cost $5.

The first official recipient of an Academy Award, Emil Jannings, asked if he could receive his award before the ceremony. The Academy granted the request, so Jannings could return to Europe prior to the awards dinner.

The Envelope System

At the first Academy Awards ceremony, there were no surprises and the results of the Academy voting were announced three months before the dinner. After the first ceremony, the Academy decided to keep the results secret. However, Academy organizers gave an advance list of the results to newspaper editors, who could publish the results at 11 p.m. on Oscar night. In 1940, the Los Angeles Times broke the embargo and published the results of the Academy ceremony in the evening edition of the newspaper. This edition was available to guests of the Academy Awards prior to ceremony.

Due to the breaking of the embargo, the Academy decided to use a sealed envelope system in 1941. The same system is still used during the modern Academy ceremony.

Postponing the Oscars

The Academy Awards has been delayed three times. A flood in Los Angeles during 1938 caused the Academy Award organizers to postpone the ceremony for a week. In 1968, in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the ceremony was postponed from April 8 to April 10. In 1981, the Academy decided to postpone the ceremony for 24 hours due to the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.

The Oscar Statue

Although it is officially called an Academy Award of Merit, most people call the awards statue given to Academy Awards winners an Oscar. There is no consensus about the origin of this unique nickname. Actress Bette Davis claimed the statue received its nickname because the backside of the statue looked like her husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson. Academy librarian Margaret Herrick said that the statue looked like her uncle, Oscar. Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky claimed he gave the nickname to the prestigious status to prevent pretension.

The first Oscar statue was made from solid bronze that was then gold plated. Later, the Academy used Britannia metal, which was plated in copper, then nickel silver, and then 24-karat gold. For three years during the metal shortage of World War II, recipients were given painted plaster awards. Later, the recipients of these plaster awards were encouraged to redeem them for a gold-plated Oscar.

The sculpture was designed by an art director at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Cedric Gibbons. George Stanley was retained to sculpt the statue. The only change in the statue's form occurred in 1945, when the height of the base was increased.

Broadcasting the Academy Awards

The first Academy Awards presentation was the only ceremony that was not broadcast live by the media. A Los Angeles radio station broadcasted a special one-hour live program of the second ceremony. The 25th Academy Awards ceremony was the first to be broadcasted live on television. On the 38th Academy Awards night, the ceremony was broadcasted in color for the first time.

Audience interest in the Academy Awards remains high. In 2011, an estimated 37.6 million people watched the live broadcast in which "The Artist" won five Academy Awards including best picture.

Tags: The Artist