On this night, May 16, 1929, the first-ever Academy Awards ceremony, Hollywood’s annual celebration of the best its creative artists have to offer over the previous year. It honored the best films of 1927 and 1928.
In 1927, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) was established by Louis B. Mayer, originator of Louis B. Mayer Pictures Corporation, which then would be joined into Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), to unite the five branches of the film industry, including actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers.
Mayer commented on the creation of 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 them to produce what I wanted. That’s why the Academy Award was created”
Held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the awards presentation was somewhat anticlimactic compared to today’s Academy Award ceremonies, as the winners had already been announced three months earlier, in February.
Some nominations were announced without reference to a specific film. Ralph Hammeras and Nugent Slaughter received nominations in the now defunct category of Engineering Effects. Unlike later ceremonies, an actor or director could be awarded for multiple works within a year. Emil Jannings, for example, was given the Best Actor award for his work in both The Way of All Flesh and The Last Command
For the only time in Academy history, Best Picture honors were split into two categories: Best Picture – Unique and Artistic Production, and Best Picture – Production. The winner in the first category was F.W. Murnau’s romantic drama Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, starring George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor. William Wellman’s film Wings, set in the World War I-era and starring Clara Bow, Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen, won in the second category.
The Academy also presented an honorary award to Charles Chaplin; it would be the only honor the great actor and filmmaker would receive from the organization until 1972, when he returned to the United States for the first time in two decades to accept another honorary award.
Starting with the following year’s awards, the Academy began releasing the names of the winners to the press on the night of the awards ceremony to preserve some suspense.
1905 – Henry (Jaynes) Fonda (Academy Award-winning actor: On Golden Pond ; Grapes of Wrath, Advice and Consent, Mister Roberts, Young Mr. Lincoln; father of Jane & Peter Fonda; died Aug 12, 1982)
1937 – Yvonne Craig (actress, dancer: Batman [TV], Barbara Gordon/Batgirl [TV], Digging Up Business, It Happened at the World’s Fair, The Young Land, Mars Needs Women)
1947 – Bill Smitrovich (actor: Crime Story, Life Goes On, The Trigger Effect, Bodily Harm, Crazy People, Renegades, A Killing Affair, Splash, Manhunter, The Practice)
1953 – Pierce Brosnan (actor: Mrs. Doubtfire, Remington Steele, The Manions of America, Noble House, The Heist, Detonator, The Fourth Protocol, Don’t Talk to Strangers, The Thomas Crown Affair , The Tailor of Panama; Bond … James Bond: GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough)
1955 – (Mary) Debra Winger (actress: Forget Paris, Shadowlands, A Dangerous Woman, Leap of Faith, Legal Eagles, Terms of Endearment, An Officer and a Gentleman, Urban Cowboy, French Postcards, Slumber Party ’57, Wonder Woman)
1959 – Mare Winningham (Emmy Award-winning [supporting] actress: Amber Waves [1979-1980], George Wallace [1997-1998]; The Boys Next Door, Wyatt Earp, Fatal Exposure, Turner and Hooch, St. Elmo’s Fire, The Thorn Birds)
1969 – Tracey Gold (actress: Shirley, Goodnight Beantown, Growing Pains; TV host: That’s Incredible)