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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 Hammer