When the first Academy Awards were handed out on May 16, 1929, movies had just begun to talk.
That first Awards ceremony took place during a banquet held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The attendance was 250 and tickets cost $10.
The suspense which now touches most of the world at Oscar time was not always a characteristic of the Awards. At first the winners were known prior to the Awards banquets. Results were given in advance to the news-papers for publication at 11 p.m. on the night of the Awards. But in 1940, guests arriving for the affair could buy the 8:45 p.m. edition of the Los Angeles Times, which announced the winning achievements. As a result, the sealed-envelope system was adopted the next year and remains in use today.
Since the earliest years, interest in the Academy Awards has run high, if not at the modern fever-pitch. The first presentation was the only one to escape a media audience, but by the second year enthusiasm for the Awards was so high that a Los Angeles radio station actually did a live, one-hour broadcast. The Awards have had broadcast coverage since.
For 15 years the Academy Awards Presentations were banquet affairs held, after the first in the Blossom Room, at the Ambassador and Biltmore hotels. The custom of presenting the statuettes at a banquet was discontinued after 1942. Increased attendance and the war had made banquets impractical, and the presentation ceremonies have since been held in theaters.
The 16th Awards ceremony was held at Grauman’s Chinese Theater and was covered by network radio for the first time and broadcast overseas to American GIs. The Awards stayed at Grauman’s for three years, then moved to the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium. Two years later, in March 1949, the 21st Awards were held in the Academy’s own Melrose Avenue theater. For the next 10 years the annual Awards were held at the RKO Pantages Theater in Hollywood. It was here, on March 19, 1953, that the Academy Awards Presentation was first televised. The NBC-TV and radio network carried the 25th Academy Awards ceremonies live from Hollywood with Bob Hope as master of ceremonies and from the NBC International Theater in New York with Fredric March making the presentations. In 1961, the Awards moved to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and for the next 10 years the ABC-TV and radio network handled the broadcasting duties.
In 1966, the Oscars were first broadcast in color. From 1971 through 1975 the NBC-TV network carried the Awards. ABC has telecast the show since 1976 and is under contract through 2008.
On April 14, 1969, the 41st Academy Awards ceremonies moved to the brand new Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center of Los Angeles County. It was the first major event for this world-renowned cultural center.
The Awards remained at the Music Center until 1986, when the ceremonies returned to the Shrine Auditorium for the 60th and 61st Awards. Since then the Awards have moved back and forth between the Shrine and the Music Center. The larger Shrine Auditorium (6,000 seats) is used principally to afford Academy members an opportunity to attend the telecast, an opportunity that is severely limited by the Music Center’s size (about 2,500 seats).
Thee first statuette ever presented went to Emil Jannings, who was named best actor for his roles in “The Last Command” and “The Way of All Things.” That first year, 1929, 15 statuettes were awarded, all of them to men except for Janet Gaynor. In the second year, the number of awards was reduced to seven – two for acting and one each for Best Picture, Directing, Writing, Cinematography and Art Direction. Since then, the Awards Presentations have grown slowly, but steadily, not only in audience count, but in the fields of achievement covered.
The need for special awards beyond standard categories was recognized from the start. Two were awarded for the 1927/28 year: one went to Warner Bros. for producing the pioneer talking picture, THE JAZZ SINGER, and the other went to Charlie Chaplin for producing, directing, writing and starring in THE CIRCUS. In 1934, three new categories were added: Film Editing, Music Scoring and Best Song. That year also brought a write-in campaign to nominate Bette Davis for her performance in OF HUMAN BONDAGE. The Academy now has a rule forbidding write-ins on the final ballot. Price Waterhouse signed with the Academy that year and has been employed ever since to tabulate and ensure the secrecy of the results, although the company is now known as PricewaterhouseCoopers.
In 1936, the first Oscars were presented in the Supporting Actor and Actress categories. The honors went to Walter Brennan for COME AND GET IT and Gale Sondergaard for ANTHONY ADVERSE.
The first presentation of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award was made in 1937, with the honor going to Darryl F. Zanuck.
The Academy Award for Special Effects was added in 1939 and was first won by 20th Century-Fox for T HE RAINS CAME.
In 1941, the documentary film category appeared on the ballot for the first time. In 1947, long before the Awards ceremonies would reach the rest of the world, the Academy brought foreign countries into the field of Oscar recognition. That year the first Award to honor a foreign language motion picture was given to the Italian film, SHOE-SHINE. The following year the Academy placed Costume Design on the ballot. The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was established in 1956 and presented that year to Y. Frank Freeman. In 1963, the special effects award was split into two: Sound Effects and Special Visual Effects, in recognition of the fact that the best sound effects and best visual effects did not necessarily come from the same film. The most recent additions, Makeup and the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for technological contributions, were established in 1981.
There have only been three circumstances that interrupted the scheduled presentation of the Academy Awards. The first was in 1938 when destructive floods all but washed out Los Angeles and delayed the ceremonies one week. The Awards ceremony was postponed from April 8 to April 10 in 1968 out of respect for Dr. Martin Luther King, who had been assassinated a few days earlier, and whose funeral was held on April 8, the day set for the Awards. In 1981, the Awards were postponed for 24 hours due to the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.
Attendance at the Annual Academy Awards is by invitation only. No tickets are put on public sale.