Let’s start with a bit of trivia. As the title suggests, the well-known host of The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson, hosted the Academy Awards five times. Who hosted the most? That would be Bob Hope, who hosted or co-hosted 19 Academy Awards ceremonies.
According to the Academy, the 2019 show will be held to three hours. Quite a bit different from the first awards ceremony. A private dinner banquet was held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in May 1929; attended by 270 people, the presentations lasted a mere 15 minutes. It was hosted by actor Douglas Fairbanks, the first president of the International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and writer/director William C. deMille.
We’ll see if ABC can hold to that three-hour time limit. Last year’s show lasted three hours and 53 minutes. The last time the show was under two hours (one hour and 44 minutes) was in 1972. The 2002 ceremony lasted four hours and 23 minutes, the longest on record. That broadcast, however, drew 40.54 million viewers; the 2018 show was watched by a mere 26.5 million, the lowest number in the Academy’s history.
With all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Academy Awards, one might ask how it all began.
In the 1920s, Louis B. Mayer was the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios, and, in 1927, he conceived the idea of an organization uniting all facets of the movie industry, and the International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was born. Fairbanks was elected the organization’s first president. Since Fairbanks, 35 people have held the post (only three women, and, in 1945, actress Bette Davis resigned after two months; marketing/public relations executive Cheryl Boone Isaacs, 2013 to 2017, is the third woman and first African-American to hold the post); cinematographer John Bailey is the current 36th president.
The Academy Awards, Mayer’s brainchild, were first presented in May 1929. Those receiving awards in 12 categories knew months in advance, as did everyone else. The second year of the Awards began the hullabaloo we know today; a L.A. radio station broadcast the 1930 ceremony. The ceremony was first televised in black-and-white in 1953; the first color broadcast was in 1966.
After the first awards dinner, the results were kept somewhat secret. That changed in early 1940, when, despite an embargo, the Los Angeles Times published the 1939 winners before guests even began arriving at L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel. The next year, the Academy sealed the coveted envelopes. The accounting firm, Price Waterhouse, now PricewaterhouseCoopers, began to tabulate votes in 1941, keeping everything hush-hush before the big reveal.
For all the winners and all the categories since 1929, click on the Ceremonies photo at www.oscars.org/oscars.
The Golden Man
The iconic statuette—a knight gripping a sword and standing on a reel of film—was designed in 1929 by MGM’s chief art director, Cedric Gibbons, and sculpted by Los Angeles artist George Stanley. No one really knows how the award earned the nickname. One story says Margaret Herrick, the Academy’s librarian in 1931, swore it looked like her Uncle Oscar; another says it was actress Bette Davis who named the statue after her first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson. The nickname was not acknowledged by the Academy until 1939, although it was used casually earlier by industry insiders.
Since no one knows who will take home an Oscar (only two people at PricewaterhouseCoopers are privy to that information), the number of statuettes made each year is a guesstimate. Created by Chicago manufacturer R.S. Owens & Company, the current statuette is based on a digital scan of an original 1929 Oscar. What you see handed to winners is an Oscar with no name. Winners used to send their statuettes to the Academy and wait weeks for the nameplate to be added. Nowadays, Owens’ staff engrave nameplates early for every potential winner. The appropriate nameplate is added at a special station during the Governor’s Ball held immediately after the presentations. Nameplates of non-winners are recycled.
Cast Your Ballot
More than 8,000 members comprise the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Membership is focused on 17 branches, ranging from writing to acting, and two categories for Members-at-Large and Associates (those who do not fit in any of the branches). The once-a-year new-member process is based on sponsorship; two current members of a particular branch sponsor a candidate for that same branch. Final approval comes from the Board of Governors.
Branch members nominate others from that particular branch for awards consideration; all members are eligible to nominate and vote for Best Picture nominees (which went from five films to 10 in 2009).
Both paper and online ballots are used by the Academy with nomination voting beginning in late December. While a number of changes to the rules have occurred over the years, one remains: Eligible films must be released within the calendar year for seven-day run in a commercial theater in Los Angeles County. Which explains why some films are released for a limited run in L.A. for a mere week in December.
Nominations are announced in January; then final voting begins and all categories are on the ballots for all voting members.
The Thrills, the Spills, the Drama
Each year, articles are written about the controversies of the Oscars.
Many consider the process to be overly commercialized, as studios shell out millions to promote films. The hyperbole forced the show’s broadcast date to change from April/May to late February/early March, thus shortening the time frame in which voting members (and the public) were subjected to the hucksters.
The lack of diversity in the winners of the awards remains a hot topic, and will undoubtedly continue to be so.
Hattie McDaniel was the first woman of color to win an Oscar for Supporting Actress in 1940. Unfortunately, the actress was forced to sit at the back of the theater, completely separated from her fellow Gone With the Wind cast members. It took until 2002 for another woman of color to win, when Halle Berry became the first African-American to win the Best Actress award for her role in Monster’s Ball. In her emotional acceptance speech, Berry said, “This moment is so much bigger than me. … it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”
We’re still waiting for the next woman of color to win.
The men have fared slightly better. Sidney Poitier took home the Oscar for Best Actor for his 1964 role in Lilies of the Field. In 1989, Denzel Washington won Supporting Actor (for Glory), and 12 years later, he won the Best Actor prize in 2001 for his role in Training Day. Mahershala Ali won the Supporting Actor Oscar for Moonlight in 2017.
One wonders how this year’s awards will view minority actors after the 2017 wins for Moonlight and the runaway success of this year’s Black Panther. By the way, the 2017 win for Best Picture was mired in chaos when presenters read from the wrong envelope, mistakenly naming La La Land as the winner. After accepting the award, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz had to straighten it all out, saying “I’m sorry, there’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won best picture.” Moonlight also took home the best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) award.
Expect nominations to be announced in late January 2019, while the 91st Academy Awards is set for 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT February 24 on ABC.
Look over your list of favorite movies for 2018. Any Oscar contenders?
I’ve seen A Star is Born and Black Panther; both are being touted as possible Best Picture winners. I doubt Black Panther has a chance. Have you ever known the Academy to honor a comic-book movie?
In my opinion, diversity is going to be the buzz word this year. In that vein, I think Green Book, Beautiful Boy, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Boy Erased have a shot at the top honors.
From my list, I’d like to see Annihilation win for special effects. Crazy Rich Asians has a shot at the adapted screenplay award, and perhaps an acting award. And, of course, Incredibles 2 will have to take the best animated feature award.
What about acting awards? My money is on Robert Redford or Ethan Hawke. Wouldn’t it be great if Chadwick Boseman won for his title role in Black Panther? Viola Davis, Melissa McCarthy, Carey Mulligan, and Glenn Close are among those turning in powerful performances.
Will you be watching the 91st Academy Awards February 24? If you have a question or comment on the movies, drop me a line. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 645 New Hampshire, Lawrence, KS 66044.