History of the Oscars: The year with two Best Pictures

​​​​​​​Did you know that the Academy Awards is over ninety years old? Every year, since the first ceremony held in 1929, the Academy members voted on the Best Picture of the Year. For a film, it is a crowning achievement to win Best Picture, and there is usually only one winner.

But for the very first Academy Awards, they voted on the merits of the films released in 1927 and 1928 and selected a Best Picture winner from each year. One was for the Best Unique and Artistic Production, and the other was for the Best Production. This is the only year in history when there were two Best Pictures.

Can you venture a guess about the names of these two films. Here are some clues:

One film was directed by F.W. Murnau. It is a romantic drama starring Janet Gaynor and George O’Brien. The title is about a song that you can’t hear.

The other film was directed by William Wellman. It is a story set in World War I starring Richard Arlen, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, and Clara Bow. This film’s title was part of the title from a windy song by Bette Midler that she released many decades later.

Give up?

The F.W. Murnau film was called Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Ironically, Sunrise was a silent film. Even though motion pictures with sound (“talkies”) had already become popular, both 1929 Best Picture winners were silent.

The William Wellman film was called Wings. Our Bette Midler clue comes from her hit song, Wind Beneath My Wings.

Before the Academy Awards existed, movie-goers relied on Photoplay magazine to recommend the Best Picture of the Year. And they could find stories about winning films in local and national newspapers.

Wilmette Life newspaper reported on September 7, 1928, that the 1925 Best Picture was The Big Parade starring John Gilbert. In 1926, the Best Picture was Beau Geste starring Ronald Colman.

The same paper reported that the stars of Our Gang would be appearing in person at Balanban & Katz Norshore Theater. Hal Roach’s Little Rascals fans could meet Farina, “Fatty” Cob, Wheezer, Jean Darling, Mary Ann Jackson, Harpy Spear, and Petey (the dog). Then, they could enjoy the music of Frankie Masters and Jazz Collegians in Icy-Hot Jazz, followed by a screening of The First Kiss starring Fay Wray and Gary Cooper. What an event that must have been! That is why they call them the “good old days.”

Modest Beginnings for the Academy Awards

Megastar Douglas Fairbanks hosted the first Academy Awards presentation on May 16, 1929. The awards were presented at the famous Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. The famous gold-plated trophy was not yet called an “Oscar” – it would receive the nickname two years later when the executive director for the Academy of Arts and Sciences, Margaret Herrick, remarked that she thought the statue resembled her dear Uncle Oscar. The name stuck, and the trophy has been called that ever since the Academy officially adopted the name in 1939.

As the Syracuse Herald Journal reported, the first televised Academy Awards were held on March 19, 1953. Hosted by Bob Hope and Conrad Nagel, the awards show was absolutely perfect for live television. The red carpet rolled out and the celebrities’ arrival on television became an international sensation. Today the Academy Awards have a live audience of over one billion viewers.

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