By the Decade: 10 Unforgettable Oscar Moments
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In honour of the 91st Academy Awards, we’ve selected our favourite Oscar moment from each decade.
From its humble origins in 1929 to the four-hour televised spectacle it is today, the Oscars have come along way.
Within its 91-year history there are moments that remain imprinted in our memory and go beyond mere water cooler talk.
Here, 10 unforgettable Oscar moments from each decade.
1929: The first Academy Awards
The inaugural Academy Awards had little of the production value the ceremony possesses today. In fact, it was the only Academy Awards that wasn’t broadcast in some way — at least the following year’s ceremony was broadcast over the radio.
Organizers also seemed to have no interest in entertaining the 270 guests in attendance. Any anticipation surrounding the results was snuffed out three months prior to the event when the winners were previously announced in the Los Angeles Times.
Making the night even more awkward was the Academy’s decision to eliminate films using sound from Best Picture contention.
The latter problem was ultimately solved organically the following year, after the film industry had fully embraced sound. As for the lack of anticipation surrounding the event, going forward the Academy revealed the winners to the newspapers with the agreement that they publish only after the ceremony.
However, this process would change again 10 years later when one newspaper published the results in their evening edition, available ahead of the ceremony.
In response, the Oscars adopted the sealed envelope system still in use today, which — as evidenced during the 2017 ceremony — hasn’t exactly been foolproof either.
1935: Brief Ballot Experiment
The 7th annual Academy Awards was the first of two ceremonies where balloting was done out in the open and write-in votes were permitted.
Although Bette Davis received the most write-in votes for Best Actress, it wouldn’t be enough to beat out Claudette Colbert who starred in It Happened One Night, which was the first film to sweep all four of the major categories.
1940: Hattie McDaniel Makes History
At the 12th Academy Awards, Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to receive an Oscar, taking home Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind.
However, the racist climate in the United States at the time almost prevented the actress from attending the event. With the ceremony held at the segregated Ambassador Hotel, Gone With The Wind producer David O. Selznick had to petition for her attendance.
Although he was successful, McDaniel was forced to sit in the back of the venue, separated from her fellow co-stars.
In lieu of the acceptance speech Selznick had provided her, McDaniel’s delivered one she had prepared with the help of Black writer Ruby Berkley.
“It has made me feel very, very humble, and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything I may be able to do in the future,” she told the crowd. “I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry.”
1953: Oscar Hits The Small Screen
The first televised Academy Awards ceremony in 1953 was an ambitious production split between two separate venues, one in Hollywood and another junior edition of the ceremonies in New York to accommodate actors performing on Broadway.
One of the highlights of the broadcast, was the antics of Hollywood host Bob Hope, who had plenty of material for the momentous occasion.
“Isn’t it exciting to know that a lot of these glamorous stars are going to be in your homes tonight,” he told the audience. “All over America housewives are turning to their husbands and saying, ‘Put on your shirt, Joan Crawford is coming.”
Lasting 110 minutes, the telecast was seen in an estimated 10.9 million homes, which more than tripled the following year.
1964: Sidney Poitier Wins Best Actor
Sidney Poitier became the first Black man to receive an Oscar, winning Best Actor for his role in Lilies of the Field.
Much of the talk, though, was the congratulatory peck that Anne Bancroft gave Poitier after presenting him with the award.
At the time, interracial marriage was still not legal in all 50 states and racial conservatives considered the kiss offensive.
It would take another 38 years for another Black man — Denzel Washington — to win in the same category.
1974: A Winner of Few Words
Ten-year-old Tatum O’Neal became the youngest-ever Academy Award winner when she won Best Supporting Actor for her moving debut performance in Paper Moon opposite her dad, Ryan O’Neal.