If you’re like most of us, you were glued to your television set on February 24th watching the 85th Academy Awards, or as we all call it, The Oscars. With all the build-up and hype weeks before—through the three hours of red carpet interviews with the perennial question: Who are you wearing?—to the actual ceremony that always runs long and breaks into the wee hours of Monday morning—and the endless reviews on the morning shows and entertainment programs throughout the week. We never seem to get enough. So that got us thinking: How did this start, anyway?
The first Academy Awards ceremony, organized and overseen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), took place on May 16, 1929, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (the Academy started giving out awards in 1927 but this was the first ceremony they held). Far from being broadcast, it was actually a private party with about three hundred people attending the dinner and award ceremony. Not much of a ceremony, really just a few speeches, AMPAS President Douglas Fairbanks handed out the statuettes, and then back to partying. And why not, the winners had already been notified three months before, so the suspense was gone.
But, the newspaper reports of the ceremony grabbed everyone’s attention and the Academy realized it had a hot commodity on its hands. So, the next year they changed two things to glam it up a bit (this is Hollywood, after all): first, they broadcast the ceremony “live” on radio; and second, they kept the winners a secret until the final moment. Interestingly, they gave the winners list in advance to newspapers to print on the night of the Awards, so early commuters could read the morning edition and know who had won. But in 1940, the L.A. Times tried to “scoop” the world and snuck out an evening edition of their paper with the winners’ names the same night as the awards. In fact, the story goes that the ceremony guests were actually reading who had won (or lost) as they walked in. Needless to say, the Academy has kept the names of the winners in a sealed envelope ever since.
By 1942, the ceremony had outgrown the Roosevelt Hotel and the Academy moved the ceremonies to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. In 1953, the first telecast of the Academy Awards was broadcast on TV, and millions of viewers tuned in to watch the proceedings. Color broadcasting began in 1966; and since 1969, the Oscars have been broadcast internationally, and now reach hundreds of millions of movie fans in over 100 countries. As the ceremony grew, it needed larger and larger venues. In 1969, AMPAS moved the Oscar ceremony to the new Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles; and for the last decade it has been held at The Dolby Theatre (formerly known as the Kodak Theatre).
So there you have it, a brief history of the Oscars broadcast. From the very first award ceremony until now, the mystique and grandeur of the Oscars has grown and grown. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why we love watching the ceremony; it could be the glamour, it could be the chance to see our favorite stars, but we think it is because we get very attached to the films that move us emotionally, and we want to see the people who made them get the credit they deserve. So with such a hold on our emotions, it’s no wonder film fans around the world are glued to the television on Oscar night.