The History of the Academy Awards

by Elysian Magazine

It was the Roaring Twenties. Flappers raised their hemlines and lowered their morals. Prohibition was law since 1917, when the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banned “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors,” Speakeasies grew tenfold literally overnight, in New York City, from 10,000 to over 100,000—and organized crime was born. And the Academy Awards was born.

Founded by Louis B Mayer, head of MGM studios, in 1927, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was intended as a non-profit organization with the goal of advancing the film industry. However, when asked why he created the Academy Awards he said, “I found the best way to handle film makers was to hang medals all over them. If I got them cups and awards, they’d kill themselves to produce what I wanted.” The first Academy Award Ceremony took place two years later at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, on 16 May 1929. Tickets for the private dinner cost $5 and the presentation ceremony hosted by Douglas Fairbanks (actor and first president of the Academy) lasted just 15 minutes.

The first woman to win an Oscar was Janet Gaynor, in 1929, for her performances in three films: 7th Heaven, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, and Street Angel. This was the only time an actress won one Oscar for multiple performances. By 1942 the awards ceremony became so popular it was moved to Grauman’s Chinese Theater. In 1953, Bob Hope hosted the first televised awards. He would go on to host the event 19 times with such immortal lines as, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to suspense.”

Who named the golden statue of a knight and his shield is not known. Bette Davis claimed she once remarked the statuette’s backside resembled that of her husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson. Cedric Gibbons, art director at Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, gets the credit for designing the statuette but not for naming it. Three motion pictures tie for 11 Oscars, the most awards won by a single film: Ben-Hur (1959), Titanic (1997), and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

The most Oscars won by a man was Walt Disney, with 22, and by a woman, the greatest costume designer in motion picture history, Edith Head, with 8. Best actress was won four times by Katharine Hepburn, including two consecutive Oscars for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, her last film with Spencer Tracy, in 1967, and The Lion in Winter opposite Peter O’Toole, in 1968. Director John Ford won four Oscars, the most of any director.

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