What It Was Like to Attend the First Academy Awards

The Academy
Feb 16, 2018 · 3 min read
An invitation to the first annual Academy Awards

Nominees were never announced.

The first Academy Awards celebrated films released between August 1, 1927, and August 1, 1928. Members made initial nominations by August 15, 1928, after which 25 judges narrowed the top ten finalists in each of 12 categories down to three. A Central Board of Judges — one member from each of the five Academy branches — then decided the final winners. In 1929, those five judges were Frank Lloyd (Directors), Sid Grauman (Producers), Alec Francis (Actors), Tom Geraghty (Writers) and A. George Volck (Technicians).

The awards presentation lasted twenty minutes.

The presentation of awards would take place a full three months later, when Academy President and silent film star Douglas Fairbanks along with Academy Vice President William C. de Mille presided over the brief proceedings.

Best Actress winner Janet Gaynor. Several winner photographs, taken by Karl Struss prior to the banquet, were displayed throughout the Blossom Room that night.

The Oscar’s design hasn’t changed much.

In 1927, Cedric Gibbons, chief art director at MGM, designed the graphic that would serve as the basis for the statuette: a knight gripping a crusader’s sword standing protectively in front of a reel of film. The reel symbolized the film industry, and its five spokes represented the original five branches of the Academy.

Officially named Academy Awards of Merit, the nickname “Oscar” wouldn’t be formally adopted by the Academy until 1939.

(See how an Oscar statuette is made today.)

Title Writing winner Joseph Farnham poses with Academy President Douglas Fairbanks

There was an award for title writing.

During that first ceremony, 7th Heaven and Sunrise won the most awards, three apiece. For the first and only time, the ceremony included directing awards for both drama (Frank Borzage for 7th Heaven) and comedy (Lewis Milestone for Two Arabian Knights). There was also a category for title writing, which recognized the work done on intertitles for silent films. Joseph Farnham won for his body of work.

With the increasing popularity of the talkie, this category was discontinued the following year.

Special Awards were presented to Warner Bros. for producing The Jazz Singer and to Charles Chaplin for writing, producing, acting in and directing The Circus.


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We are The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and we champion the power of human imagination.

ART & SCIENCE

A conversation about the power of movies