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The 90th Academy Awards are about 10 weeks away, and while it will be many years before 2017 films are considered classics that doesn’t mean we can’t look back at the history of the Oscars and those early winners. Every Monday until March 4th we will look back at the history of the Academy Awards and how they have evolved in the last 90 years.


1927 – Birth of the Academy

During a dinner at his home, M-G-M studio chief Louis B. Mayer and his guests talked about creating an organized group to benefit the film industry. A week later, 36 invitees from all the creative branches of the film industry dined at Los Angeles’s Ambassador Hotel to hear a proposal to found the International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Articles of incorporation were soon presented and officers were elected with Douglas Fairbanks as president.


1928 – Awards of Merit

One of the first Academy committees was the Awards of Merit. The seven-person committee suggested to the Board that awards be presented in 12 categories.

  • Outstanding Picture
  • Best Unique and Artistic Picture
  • Best Director, Comedy Picture
  • Best Director, Dramatic Picture
  • Best Actor
  • Best Actress
  • Best Original Story
  • Best Adaptation
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Engineering Effects
  • Best Title Writing


1929 – The First Academy Awards Ceremony

The first Academy Awards ceremony which honored the best films of 1927 and 1928 was a May 16 banquet at the Roosevelt Hotel’s Blossom Room. AMPAS president Douglas Fairbanks hosted the show. Tickets cost $5 (which would be $70 in 2017 considering inflation), 270 people attended the event and the presentation ceremony lasted 15 minutes. It is the only Academy Awards ceremony not to be broadcast. The radio broadcast was introduced the following year in 1930.

During the ceremony, the AMPAS presented Academy Awards, now known as the Oscars in 12 categories. Recipients were announced three months earlier.  Unlike later ceremonies, an actor could be awarded for multiple works within a calendar year for the same category. Emil Jannings, for example, was given the Best Actor award for his work in both The Way of All Flesh and The Last Command.

The next year, the Academy kept the results secret but gave an advance list to newspapers for publication at 11 p.m. This continued until 1940 when the Los Angeles Times published the winners in its evening edition – readily available to arriving guests. That prompted the sealed-envelope system in use today.



The recipients of the Award of Merit at the first ceremony were: (bold indicates winner)


Richard Barthelmess — The Noose  {“Nickie Elkins”};  and The Patent Leather Kid  {“The Patent Leather Kid”}

Emil Jannings — The Last Command {“General Dolgorucki [Grand Duke Sergius Alexander]”};  And The Way of All Flesh {“August Schilling”}



Louise Dresser — A Ship Comes In {“Mrs. Pleznik”}

Janet Gaynor  — 7th Heaven {“Diane”}; Street Angel {“Angela”}; and Sunrise  {“The Wife”}

Gloria Swanson — Sadie Thompson  {“Sadie Thompson”}



Rochus Gliese — Sunrise

William Cameron Menzies — The Dove; and Tempest

Harry Oliver — 7th Heaven



George Barnes — The Devil Dancer; The Magic Flame; and Sadie Thompson

Charles Rosher  — Sunrise

Karl StrussSunrise

[NOTE: For this awards year, awards were presented in the name of the individual and could honor work on one or more films. Charles Rosher and Karl Struss were both honored for cinematography on this film. It is considered a single nomination for the film.]


DIRECTING (Comedy Picture)

Lewis Milestone — Two Arabian Knights

Ted Wilde — Speedy


DIRECTING (Dramatic Picture)

Frank Borzage — 7th Heaven

Herbert Brenon — Sorrell and Son

King Vidor  — The Crowd



Ralph Hammeras

[NOTE: This nomination was not associated with any specific film title.]

Roy PomeroyWings

Nugent Slaughter

[NOTE: Though no specific titles were indicated during the presentation on May 16, 1929, or in the official results from the Central Board of Judges for this honorable mention, Academy records indicate that Mr. Slaughter was most often mentioned in connection with The Jazz Singer.]



The Caddo Company — The Racket

Fox  — 7th Heaven

Paramount Famous LaskyWings




Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer — The Crowd

Paramount Famous Lasky — Chang


WRITING (Adaptation)

Alfred Cohn — The Jazz Singer

Anthony Coldeway — Glorious Betsy

Benjamin Glazer — 7th Heaven


WRITING (Original Story)

Lajos Biro — The Last Command

Ben Hecht  — Underworld


WRITING (Title Writing)

Gerald Duffy — The Private Life of Helen of Troy

Joseph Farnham [NOTE: This award was not associated with any specific film title.]

George Marion, Jr. [NOTE: This nomination was not associated with any specific film title.]



To Warner Bros., for producing The Jazz Singer, the pioneer outstanding talking picture, which has revolutionized the industry.

To Charles Chaplin, for acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus.

[NOTE: “The Academy Board of Judges on merit awards for individual achievements in motion picture arts during the year ending August 1, 1928, unanimously decided that your name should be removed from the competitive classes, and that a special first award be conferred upon you for writing, acting, directing and producing The Circus. The collective accomplishments thus displayed place you in a class by yourself.” (Letter from the Academy to Mr. Chaplin, dated February 19, 1929.)]


The Second Academy Awards Ceremony

The 2nd Academy Awards ceremony, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), honored the best films released between August 1, 1928, and July 31, 1929. They took place on April 3, 1930, at an awards banquet in the Cocoanut Grove of The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Radio coverage began with this ceremony, with a local broadcast by KNX, Los Angeles.

As the ceremony was being held more than eight months after the end of the eligibility period, it was decided that the 3rd Academy Awards would be held in November 1930, so as to bring the awards ceremony closer to the relevant time period. As a result, 1930 was the only calendar year in which two awards ceremonies were held.

The second ceremony included a number of changes over the first. Most importantly, it was the first presentation for which the winners were not announced in advance. Additionally, the number of categories was reduced from twelve to seven.

The 2nd Academy Awards is unique in being the only occasion where there were no official nominees. Subsequent research by AMPAS has resulted in a list of unofficial or de facto nominees, based on records of which films were evaluated by the judges.

Broadway Melody, The (1929)


The recipients of the Award of Merit at the second ceremony were: (bold indicates winner)


George Bancroft — Thunderbolt {“Thunderbolt Jim Lang”}

Warner Baxter  — In Old Arizona  {“The Cisco Kid”}

Chester Morris — Alibi  {“No. 1065, Chick Williams”}

Paul Muni — The Valiant {“James Dyke”}

Lewis Stone  — The Patriot {“Count Pahlen”}



Ruth Chatterton — Madame X  {“Jacqueline Floriot”}

Betty Compson — The Barker {“Carrie”}

Jeanne Eagels — The Letter {“Leslie Crosbie”}

Corinne Griffith — The Divine Lady {“Emma Hart, Lady Hamilton”}

Bessie Love — The Broadway Melody {“Hank Mahoney”}

Mary Pickford  — Coquette {“Norma Besant”}



Hans Dreier — The Patriot

Cedric Gibbons  — The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Mitchell Leisen  — Dynamite

William Cameron Menzies  — Alibi; The Awakening

Harry Oliver — Street Angel



George Barnes  — Our Dancing Daughters

Clyde De Vinna — White Shadows in the South Seas

Arthur Edeson — In Old Arizona

Ernest Palmer — Four Devils; and Street Angel

John Seitz — The Divine Lady



Lionel Barrymore — Madame X

Harry Beaumont — The Broadway Melody

Irving Cummings — In Old Arizona

Frank LloydThe Divine Lady

Frank Lloyd  — Drag; and Weary River

Ernst Lubitsch — The Patriot



Feature Productions — Alibi

Fox — In Old Arizona

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer — The Broadway Melody

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer — Hollywood Revue

Paramount Famous Lasky — The Patriot



Tom Barry — In Old Arizona; and The Valiant

Elliott Clawson — The Cop; The Leatherneck; Sal of Singapore; and Skyscraper

Hans Kraly — The Last of Mrs. Cheyney

Hans Kraly — The Patriot

Josephine Lovett — Our Dancing Daughters

Bess Meredyth — A Woman of Affairs; and Wonder of Women


The Third Ac