Emil Jannings with the first statuette ever presented.
Emil Jannings was born to an American-born father
and German mother in 1884. He was raised in the German town
of Görlitz and became a professional actor at age 18.
When he made his screen debut in 1914, he was already an established
and important stage actor. By the mid-1920s, he was widely
acclaimed as the world's greatest film actor. A powerfully-built
man with an enormous screen presence, Jannings was an ideal
tragic figure. In 1927, he signed a contract with Paramount
and came to Hollywood where his films were designed to accommodate
his gift for tragedy.
The first Academy Award winners were announced in February
of 1929 and Emil Jannings was named best actor for his roles
in "The Last Command" and "The Way of All Flesh."
The dinner celebration at which all the winners would be honored
and receive their statuettes was set for May 16, but Jannings'
plans were to return to Europe before the date of the banquet.
He requested that he be given his Award early so that he could
return home with it and his request was granted. The statuette
he received as the first best actor was therefore also the
very first Academy Award ever presented
In the first year, 15 statuettes were awarded (all of them to men except for the Best Actress award, which went to Janet Gaynor), but in the second year the number of awards was reduced to seven – two for acting and one each for Outstanding Picture, Directing, Writing, Cinematography and Art Direction. Since then, the number of award categories has grown slowly but steadily.
The need for special awards beyond standard categories was recognized from the start. Two were awarded for the 1927/28 year: one went to Warner Bros. for producing the groundbreaking talking picture “The Jazz Singer,” and the other went to Charles Chaplin for producing, directing, writing and starring in “The Circus.”
In 1934 three new regular categories were added: Film Editing, Music Score and Song. That year also brought a write-in campaign to nominate Bette Davis for her performance in “Of Human Bondage.” The Academy now has a rule forbidding write-ins on the final ballot.
The accounting firm of Price Waterhouse signed with the Academy in 1934 and has been employed ever since to tabulate and ensure the secrecy of the results. The ballots for the 79th Awards will be tabulated by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the name adopted by the firm in 1998.
In 1936 the first Academy Awards were presented in the Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress categories. The honors went to Walter Brennan for “Come and Get It” and Gale Sondergaard for “Anthony Adverse.”
The first presentation of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award was made in 1937, with the honor going to Darryl F. Zanuck.
First Awards Banquet, May 16, 1929
The Academy Award® for Special Effects was added in 1939 and was first won by Fred Sersen and E. H. Hansen of 20th Century-Fox for “The Rains Came.” In 1963 the Special Effects award was split into two: Sound Effects and Special Visual Effects, in recognition of the fact that the best sound effects and best visual effects did not necessarily come from the same film.
In 1941 the documentary film category appeared on the ballot for the first time. In 1947, before television increased the rest of the world’s interest in the Awards ceremonies, the Academy brought films from non-English-speaking countries into Oscar’s sphere. That year the first award to honor a foreign language motion picture was given to the Italian film “Shoe-Shine.” Seven more special awards were presented before Foreign Language Film became a regular category in 1956. In 1948 the Academy gave Costume Design a place on the ballot. The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was established in 1956 and presented that year to Y. Frank Freeman. A regular award for Makeup and the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for technological contributions were established in 1981. In 2001 the Academy added a new category, Best Animated Feature Film.
There have been only three circumstances that prevented the Academy Awards presentation from going off as scheduled. The first was in 1938, when destructive floods all but washed out Los Angeles and delayed the ceremony one week. In 1968 the Awards ceremony was postponed from April 8 to April 10 out of respect for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who had been assassinated a few days earlier, and whose funeral was held on April 9. In 1981 the Awards were postponed for 24 hours because of the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.
In 2003, when U.S. forces invaded Iraq the Thursday before the telecast, the show went on, but the red carpet was limited to the area immediately in front of the theater entrance, the red carpet bleachers were eliminated and the bulk of the world’s press was disinvited. In 2004 the red carpet was back in all its glitz and glamour.
Attendance at the Academy Awards ceremony is by invitation only. No tickets are put on public sale.