20 Things You Didn’t Know About the First Academy Awards


Today marks the 88th anniversary of the 1st Academy Awards, where Hollywood’s finest were first honored for their achievements in cinema. A lot has changed since that day in 1929; the Oscars ceremony is hours-long, the red carpet pre-show is more focused on fashion and gossip than film, and the Awards cost upwards of $44 million to produce. But the cult of celebrity is still the same. We look back at some of the most fascinating facts about the 1st Academy Awards, which reveal just how much the Oscars have transformed over the decades.

The 1st Academy Awards took place on Thursday, May 16, 1929.

The ceremony honored films made between August 1, 1927 and August 1, 1928.

Louis B. Mayer, founder of Louis B. Mayer Pictures Corporation (at present, merged into Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), created the Awards. “I found that the best way to handle [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them. […] If I got them cups and awards they’d kill themselves to produce what I wanted. That’s why the Academy Award was created,” he said.

Cedric Gibbons, the art director of MGM, designed the Academy Award trophy. Sculptor George Stanley was paid only $500 to produce the original statue from Gibbons’ design.

Robin Hood actor Douglas Fairbanks hosted the ceremony. He was the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) president at the time.

Tickets to the event for guests of members cost only $5 (which would be under $100 with inflation).

The presentation ceremony lasted only 15 minutes. For perspective, the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony was three hours and 49 minutes long.

Winners were announced three months before the ceremony. The secret ballot voting and sealed envelope announcement didn’t start until 1942.

Only 270 people attended the awards, held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in the Blossom Ballroom (nearly 4,500 square feet). The room was set with 36 banquet tables. Guests ate dinner.

It was the only Academy Awards ceremony not broadcast by radio or television.

Actors and directors could be awarded for multiple works in the same year.

The “Best Picture” award used to be called the “Outstanding Picture” award.

The “Unique and Artistic Picture” category was dropped after the ceremony’s second year. It was originally considered equally important as “Outstanding Picture.”

The “Best Picture” winner was decided by AMPAS founders Fairbanks, Sid Grauman, Mayer, Mary Pickford, and Joseph Schenck.

William A. Wellman’s 1927 Gary Cooper and Clara Bow film Wings is the first movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was the most expensive movie of its time.

The Best Actor winners were German star Emil Jannings (best known for his role in The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich) for The Last Command and box office starlet Janet Gaynor for 7th Heaven, Street Angel, and Sunrise. This was the first and only time an actress won the Oscar for multiple roles.

Sound was a new invention for film at the time of the ceremony. The Jazz Singer, one of cinema’s first talkies, was disqualified from competing for Best Picture since the Academy thought it would be unfair to the silents vying for the win.

Charlie Chaplin, who was entering an unpopular period in his career, won an honorary award. He was originally a nominee for Best Actor, Best Writer, and Best Comedy Director for The Circus — but he was removed from each category to allow him to win the special award (or to shove him aside professionally, depending upon who you ask).

For the first and only time, the Academy gave awards for dramatic direction (Frank Borzage for 7th Heaven) and comedy direction (Lewis Milestone for Two Arabian Knights).

The Academy didn’t identify the ceremony as the Oscars that year. They didn’t start using the nickname until 1939.

See photos from the 1st Academy Awards on Oscars.org.