The first Academy Awards were handed out back in 1929. The “show” looked decidedly different then – it was in fact a dinner, the ceremony itself took 15 minutes and the awards had already been announced three weeks earlier. There were also far fewer categories. The first winner was Wings (1927), a film that is chiefly memorable for its aerial footage, not its story. The first host of the ceremony was Douglas Fairbanks, then also the first Academy president.
In the 1930s, new categories were added. It Happened One Night became the first film to win the five major awards (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay), a feat that has been repeated only twice again. Bob Hope hosted the show for the first time in 1939 and would go on to do so again a record 18 times. In the 1940s, the sealed envelope became a fixture and foreign films began to receive special awards until a permanent category was created in 1956.
In 1953, the Oscars were televised for the first time, with Hope as host. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to suspense”, he deadpanned and went on to take a few cheap shots at television. Of course, the medium helped change the awards. The clip above shows the opening – and Hope really set the tone.
In 1964, Barbara Stanwyck presented Sidney Poitier with an Oscar for Best Actor (Lilies of the Field), the first time an African-American actor won the award.
The first Oscars to be televised in color took place in 1966. Bob Hope was once again host. “Tonight, we set aside old feuds, and start new ones”. The YouTube clip is sadly not embeddable, but you can view it here.
Due to the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., the 1968 Oscars were postponed and introduced in this somber way by then-Academy president Gregory Peck. Bob Hope made sure the laughters came after it.
In 1972, Charlie Chaplin made his touching comeback in Hollywood after having been hounded out of the country for his leftist views. The clip shows him receiving his honorary award. “You’re wonderful… sweet people.”
The year after saw Marlon Brando win Best Actor for The Godfather, but he wouldn’t accept the award. Instead, Roger Moore and Liv Ullmann faced Sacheen Littlefeather, an Apache activist, as a protest against how Native Americans are treated by the film industry. Did not sit well with parts of the audience.
David Niven was subjected to a streaker in 1974, but had the ultimate, perfect comeback.
John Wayne was a true legend that ultimately succumbed to cancer. When a very frail-looking Duke appeared to hand out the Best Picture Oscar to The Deer Hunter in 1979, he received a standing ovation. The clip above also shows Francis Ford Coppola and Ali McGraw present Best Director to Michael Cimino.
In 1981, the show was postponed due to the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. Host Johnny Carson begins by showing a pre-taped introduction by Reagan.
Robert Duvall gave Sally Field her Oscar for Places in the Heart in 1985, which was when the actress said “You like me!” to the Academy. Her speech has become part of Oscar history.
Fashion became an increasingly important part of Oscar night, and Cher took it to new heights with her extraordinary outfit in 1986. No one has topped it since, not even Björk and her 2001 swan costume.
The clip above shows Billy Crystal hosting the Oscars for the first time, in 1990. He would do so again another eight times. “Jack Nicholson is so rich Morgan Freeman drove him here tonight”.
The first woman to host the Oscars was Whoopi Goldberg in 1994. “There haven’t been so many showbiz executives sweating over one woman since Heidi Fleiss”. She would do it again three more times.
In 1999, Roberto Benigni became the happiest winner of an Oscar ever (for Life Is Beautiful), virtually climbing over seats and people to reach the stage. “I want to kiss everybody!!”
Michael Moore brought politics into the Academy Awards when he won an Oscar for Bowling for Columbine in 2003. He took the opportunity, along with his fellow nominees, to say “Shame on you, Mr. Bush!”, protesting the Iraq War. The audience reaction was deeply divided.
In 2010, Barbra Streisand, herself a director, had the honor of presenting a Best Director Oscar to a woman for the first time, Kathryn Bigelow (who also defeated her ex-husband, James Cameron).
Ellen DeGeneres assembled an amazing group of stars for a selfie that broke Twitter records, in 2014.
In 2017, when it came time to present Best Picture, there was a jaw-dropping mix-up. You can see how confused Warren Beatty looks as he and Faye Dunaway announce the wrong film – La La Land instead of Moonlight. The mistake was corrected live, in a graceful way, but the Academy was seriously shaken by the incident (which was not Beatty and Dunaway’s fault).