On May 16th, 1929, the first ever Academy Awards show was held by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). It was so long ago that Oscar wasn’t even born yet. The event was held at a smoke-filled Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in LA. Maybe it wasn’t smoke-filled, but it’s a very 1930s noir image and smoking was a pretty cool thing to do back then. Lung cancer be damned! The Oscars are a spectacle today, but they weren’t back then.
Let’s look at The Oscars, then and now!
Then: It cost $5 for a ticket (roughly $69 today) and was open to anyone. 275 people attended the ceremony which spread across 36 tables.
Now: The average price of a ticket is $500 and is practically unavailable since studios buy a majority of them. Ticket sales are also not open to the public. So, the event today is basically by invite only as Chappelle talks about in his Netflix special.
Then: All twelve awards were handed out in fifteen minutes. The winners were announced three months earlier, too, meaning the event was strictly a formality.
Now: There are 24 awards now. The ceremony takes four hours, plus a few hours of pre-show, plus a few weeks of hype between the nominations and the actual show.
Then: Emil Jennings won Best Actor for two different movies. Janet Gaynor was awarded best actress for three films. There was a Best Director award given for drama and comedy, much like today’s Golden Globes.
Charlie Chaplin AND Warner Brothers each received honorary awards. Chaplin for his body of work and sheer awesome. Warner Brothers for The Jazz Singer and pioneering “talkie” films.
Now: Casey Affleck won for Manchester By The Sea, a film which likely contributed to many suicides. Emma Stone won for La La Land. One film each. That’s how it works today.
Then: The award didn’t exist. Wings won for Outstanding Picture while Sunrise won Unique And Artistic Picture. The following year, The Academy turned Outstanding Picture into Best Picture and scrapped the Unique and Artistic Picture award. So, in a bit of tricky trivia, the first ever Best Picture in Oscars history is Wings OR Sunrise.
Now: In 2017, no such confusion goes on. Well, except for an inept Academy employee who handed the wrong envelope to the presenters. In what is likely to be one of the most remembered moments in Oscars history, La La Land was announced as Best Picture, but it was quickly corrected. Instead, Moonlight was the official winner. You could say that La La Land won the Unique and Artistic Picture award.
Then: ZERO. The first Academy Awards was not broadcast on TV, mostly because TV didn’t even exist yet. The ceremony was also not broadcast on the radio.
Now: Thirty million viewers in the United States alone and billions of views of clips online. Television broadcast networks once fought over rights to air the show. However, no network has aired it more than ABC with 52 out of 65 shows. It’s a spectacle in an age of spectacle.
Then: The award wasn’t known as the Oscar. It was the object given to winners and was merely the Academy Award of Merit or statue.
Now: The Academy Awards, as of 2012, doesn’t even exist anymore as AMPAS officially re-branded as The Oscars. And yet, the history of why they even call the award “Oscar” in the first place is still a mystery. The story includes a journalist, librarian, and Walt Disney. It’s the kind of story that needs a movie.