The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces the winners of the first Academy Awards on February 18, 1929. It was a far cry from the suspense, glamour and endless press coverage surrounding the Oscars today: The first award recipients’ names were printed on the back page of the academy’s newsletter. A few days later, Variety published the information—on page seven. The ceremony was then held in May.
Spearheaded by movie mogul Louis B. Mayer, the Academy was organized in May 1927 as a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement and improvement of the film industry. The first awards went to movies produced in 1927 and 1928. Though the announcements were made in February 1929, the actual awards weren’t given out until May 16, 1929, in a ceremony and banquet held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Some 270 people attended the dinner, many paying $5 each for a ticket.
The first Academy Award winners received gold statuettes designed by art director Cedric Gibbons and sculpted by George Stanley. The Academy’s first president, the silent film actor Douglas Fairbanks, handed out the statuettes to the winners, who included Janet Gaynor for Best Actress (for three different films: Seventh Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise) and the German-born Emil Jannings (The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh) for Best Actor. Frank Borzage and Lewis Milestone both won Best Director awards, for Seventh Heaven and Two Arabian Knights, respectively. Best Picture honors went to Wings, the World War I drama directed by William Wellman.
In the second year of its awards, the Academy changed its policy and began releasing the names of each year’s winners to the press at 11 p.m. on the night of the awards ceremony. This practice ended in 1940 after the Los Angeles Times broke from tradition and published the results in its evening edition, which meant they were revealed before the ceremony. The Academy subsequently instituted a system of sealed envelopes, which remains in use today. The awards weren’t nicknamed “Oscars” until 1931, when a secretary at the Academy noted the statue’s resemblance to her Uncle Oscar, and a journalist printed her remark.
The awards were broadcast on radio until 1953, when the first televised Oscars program aired. Since then, the Academy Awards have become one of the world’s most watched television events. Hosts have included Will Rogers, Jack Benny, Johnny Carson, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres and Jon Stewart.