“I will use the hope of getting an Academy Award a) to honour the people who work so hard and also b) it’s the greatest Good Housekeeping seal in the world. It’s the greatest brand. It’s as good as Louis Vuitton and Dior in the world of movie-making. It’s the Super Bowl.” – Harvey Weinstein
Far from the eagerly anticipated and globally televised event it is today, the first Academy Awards ceremony – a simple black-tie dinner – was held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16th 1929. Fifteen statuettes were awarded for cinematic achievements. The first Best Actor winner was acclaimed German American Emil Jannings, who had to return to Europe before the event. The Academy granted his request to receive the trophy early, making his statuette the very first Academy Award ever presented.
About two hundred and fifty people attended the dinner in the hotel’s Blossom Room, with guest tickets costing just $5. The event was held to honour films made from the beginning of August 1927 to the end of July 1928. There was no suspense to the announcement of winners in the five minute ceremony hosted by Douglas Fairbanks, as they had been named three months earlier.
Recognizing the need to honour achievements that didn’t fit into fixed categories, the Academy also presented two special awards at the very first ceremony in 1929: one to Warner Brothers for producing the pioneering “talkie picture” The Jazz Singer, and one to Charlie Chaplin for producing, directing, writing and starring in The Circus. Janet Gaynor was the first woman to receive an Academy Award for Best Actress, and the only woman to do so that night.
Only three times in its history has the Academy Awards failed to take place as scheduled. The first was in 1938, when massive flooding in Los Angeles delayed the ceremony for a week. In 1968, the Awards ceremony was postponed from April 8th to April 10th out of respect for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who had been assassinated a few days earlier, and whose funeral was held on April 9th. In 1981, the Awards were once again postponed, this time for 24 hours because of the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.
2014’s eagerly anticipated ceremony is filled with some stand-out nominations in superb movies like American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years A Slave, Captain Phillips and Dallas Buyers Club. I caught up with one of the Best Supporting Actor nominees, Michael Fassbender, who had this to say about his brilliant, sadistic but very nuanced performance in 12 Years A Slave, playing the flawed Edwin Epps: “I just tried to find a human being there, as opposed to some evil plantation owner. This is complex, this sort of relationship. Obviously, being a slave is the worst deal. You get whipped and beaten and suppressed every day, but the suppressor is also going to be affected by that. So how does that affect the person administering all this pain and suffering? He’s a human being who’s caught up in something so complicated and so unjust. I always thought of Epps as a boil on the skin of society, representing how damaged the whole society was.”
He lies in competition in his category with some of the industry’s finest that includes Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips, Bradley Cooper in American Hustle, Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club.
The Oscar is an honour that shouts success to the world, and gives the ultimate seal of industry approval, indeed the pinnacle of any acting career. The legacy of this all-powerful award lives on. What a night….the stars never shine brighter.