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15 Things That Happened at the First Oscars Ever in 1929

In its 90th year, the Academy Awards is the biggest award show in the film industry. Every year, the live telecast draws millions of viewers from all over the world. The night is a culmination of awards season, one of the most loved and hated times of the year. Tensions are high, everyone has predictions for who will win and the show itself is always full of unforgettable moments.

But like anything, the Oscars have humble beginnings. When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosted its first award ceremony in 1929, it was a very different affair from what we watch year to year.

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We rounded up 15 fun facts about the first-ever Oscars ceremony, which hosted less than 300 people. That’s less than 10 percent of the seating capacity at the Dolby Theater!

1. The first Oscars took place on May 16, 1929 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosted its first award ceremony in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.

2. Just 270 people were in attendance

First ever Oscars ceremony held in 1929

Compared to today’s audience, that’s tiny. The Dolby Theater, where the Oscars are held today, boasts a seating capacity of 3,300. Plus, millions of people all over the world watch the ceremony from home.

3. The ceremony lasted just 15 minutes

Meryl Streep applauding and pointing
Image: Giphy

According to The Mirror, the 2002 Academy Awards lasted for 4 hours and 23 minutes. There probably wasn’t any need for wrap-up music in 1929!

4. There was no red carpet

Taraji P. Henson on the 2017 Oscars red carpet
Image: Giphy

The nominees walk a 33-foot-wide red carpet before today’s Academy Awards, but in 1929, there was far less pomp and circumstance.

5. Douglas Fairbanks Sr. hosted the first Oscars ceremony

Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. presents the 1929 Oscar for Title Writing to Joseph Farnham

He was also the first president of the Academy, which began in 1927 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving and advancing the film industry.

6. Janet Gaynor won the first Oscar for Best Actress

Janet Gaynor wins first Oscar for Best Actress
Image: WENN

She was nominated for three films: 7th Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise. The other nominees, Louise Dresser and Gloria Swanson, were nominated for one film each.

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7. Emil Jannings won the first Oscar for Best Actor

He was nominated for two films: The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh. The other nominee, Richard Barthelmess, was also nominated for the category twice.

8. Wings won for Oustanding Picture and Engineering Effects

However, the film wasn’t even nominated in any other category — a far cry from today’s award ceremonies, where certain categories are used as predictors for Best Picture wins (including Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director).

9. Just three films were nominated for Outstanding Picture

That’s a pretty small number, especially when compared to this year. A record 341 films were eligible for nomination at the 2018 Academy Awards, though only nine made the official nominee list.

10. There were just 12 categories, plus special awards

Awards were given out for Best Actor, Best Actress, Art Direction, Cinematography, Directing (Comedy Picture), Directing (Dramatic Picture), Engineering Effects, Outstanding Picture, Unique and Artistic Picture, Writing (Adaptation), Writing (Original Story) and Writing (Title Writing). Today, awards are given out in 24 categories.

11. Charlie Chaplin received a special honorary award

Charlie Chaplin in The Circus
Image: Giphy

Chaplin was originally nominated in three categories for The Circus, but he was removed in order to receive the special award.

12. “Talkies” had just entered the film industry

At the 1929 ceremony, Warner Bros.’ The Jazz Singer was not allowed to compete for Best Picture because the Academy thought sound gave the film an unfair advantage over the rest of the nominees, which were silent.

13. The Jazz Singer won a special award

To make up for the first-ever Oscar snub, the Academy gave the “talkie” a special award outside of the regular categories.

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14. The Oscars weren’t yet nicknamed the Oscars

Leonardo DiCaprio finally takes home the Oscar
Image: Giphy

That wouldn’t happen until 10 years later, in 1939. Supposedly, Academy executive director Margaret Herrick said the statuettes given out to winners resembled her uncle Oscar.

15. The 1929 ceremony wasn’t broadcast

In 1942, the Academy began broadcasting the results of its secret ballot voting system, using the sealed envelopes that build so much suspense today. The ceremony wouldn’t be televised until 1953, with host Bob Hope.

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