The Academy Awards


Halle Berry delivering her acceptance speech after winning the 2002 Best Actress Oscar for her performance in "Monster's Ball", the first African-American to ever win the distinguished award.

On May 16th, 1929 the first Academy Awards ceremony was held at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood. Attended by 270 paying guests, it was a long speech-filled night hosted by Douglas Fairbanks (the Academy president) and directory William B. DeMille. Today the Academy Awards is held in the Kodak Theatre and is a major event in the entertainment industry that is attended by thousands of guests and watched on television around the globe. Here is a brief overview of the history of the Academy and it's awards ceremonies.

The Academy (currently referred to as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) was formed as a non-profit organization, in May 1927 by a number of actors, directors and production executives, purportedly at a restaurant dining engagement. Though most famous for its yearly awards ceremony that began in May of 1929, the Academy's true goal, as stated at Oscar.com, is "the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures". With that goal in mind, the Academy "fosters cultural, educational and technological cooperation among its members; it provides a forum for various branches of the industry; it represents the viewpoint of its members; and it encourages educational activities between the professional community and the public."

The source of the term "Oscar" is an unknown and contested piece of lore. One theory is that Bette Davis named it after her first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson. Another claim is that the executive secretary of the Academy, Margaret Herrick, suggested in 1931 that the statue reminded her of her Uncle Oscar. No matter where it came from, the name Oscar is now synonymous worldwide as the most prestigious award in the movie industry.

The number of awards, and the way in which they are announced has changed often over the years. At the first ceremony 15 statuettes were handed out, but the recipients were forewarned and announcements were made in the papers months before the ceremony. The next year, the number of awards was reduced to 7 but the papers were not allowed to announce until late the night of the ceremony. Over the next few years, the number of awards slowly crept back up, with additions of such categories as Film Score, Editing and Documentary films. Also the papers held to the rule of not being able to make awards announcements until the late edition papers, the night of the ceremony. However in 1940 the Los Angeles Times broke the rules and published the recipients in their evening edition which could be picked up before the ceremony even began. This prompted the beginning of the current practice of using sealed, secret envelopes, implemented by the Price Waterhouse accounting firm who since 1934 had been employed to tabulate the votes.

The first 15 years, saw the ceremony held in a large banquet format. However increasing attendance brought an end to this format in 1942. In 1943 the ceremony was held at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Ever since, the event has been held in the theatre format, with the most recent venue being the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. Another significant change to the Oscars was the inclusion of films from non-English speaking countries in 1947. Then in 1953 came the most important change since the start of the ceremonies, the first televised broadcast. This first broadcast occurred on the NBC network, and the event was hosted by Bob Hope on March 19th. In 1961 ABC took over broadcast rights. Then from 1971 to 1975 it was back to NBC. ABC reacquired the broadcast rights in 1976 and will continue to own the broadcasting rights until 2014.

In its long illustrious history, the Academy ceremony has only been postponed three times from the original scheduled time. The first postponement occurred in 1938 after disastrous floods in the LA area. Then in 1968 the ceremony was delayed a few days as a show of respect for the passing of Martin Luther King Jr. The only other time that the Academy Awards has been delayed was in 1981 following the failed assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

Currently, the Academy boasts over 6,000 members. Like the awards ceremony, new membership is by invitation/nomination only. As of the 80th awards ceremony of 2008, 2,696 Oscars (technically called Awards of Merit) have been awarded. The awards show itself has won 38 Emmy Awards with 167 nominations. Although the 2008 awards show had the lowest viewer rating in the event's history, it was still watched by almost 32 million viewers worldwide, a truly momentous event.

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