What the Oscars Used to Be Like: The Humble Beginnings of the 5 Major Awards Shows
The red carpet, the glittering gowns, the tearful thank-yous … it wasn’t always that way. Here’s what the five major entertainment awards ceremonies looked like before they became the prime-time galas they are today.
The First Oscars: Took 15 minutes
Close to 300 movie bigwigs gathered at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16, 1929, for the first Academy Awards ceremony. Because the winners had already been announced three months earlier, there was no suspense, and the statuettes were doled out in a fifteen-minute ceremony. The big winners: Wings, a blockbuster World War I flick produced by Paramount Pictures, took home Best Movie. Janet Gaynor won the first Best Actress award for her work in three different films (Sunrise, Seventh Heaven, and Street Angel), and Emil Jannings (who became the Academy’s first no-show) won Best Actor for starring in The Way of All Flesh and The Last Command. Jannings had recently left Hollywood and returned to Europe, perhaps realizing that his thick German-Swiss accent would not be well received in the new talkies. He later made Nazi propaganda films.
So who was “Oscar”? No one knows for sure. According to legend, the award got its nickname in 1931 when a secretary at the Academy saw the statuette and exclaimed, “Why, he reminds me of my Uncle Oscar!” A reporter overheard the remark and used it in a story, and the name stuck.
Speaking of award shows, we bet you didn’t know these 8 things about the Academy Awards.
The First Golden Globes: Started with 8 journalists
In 1944, when eight journalists calling themselves the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association decided to host an award ceremony of their own, the Golden Globes were born. A luncheon was held at Twentieth Century Fox’s studio, which had produced The Song of Bernadette—the first Golden Globe winner for Best Picture. Jennifer Jones won Best Actress for portraying Bernadette, and Paul Lukas was named Best Actor for Watch on the Rhine. No statues, only commemorative scrolls, were handed out that day. These surprising films actually won Oscars.
The First Grammys: Snubbed Elvis
The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences was two years old when it launched the first Grammy Awards on May 4, 1958. The awards snubbed Elvis Presley and his new rock ‘n’ roll music, instead recognizing an Italian ballad called “Volare” with the Best Single and Record of the Year awards. Henry Mancini, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and Perry Como all won awards, too. The ceremony was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hotel, and it wasn’t televised until the early 1970s. Why are the awards called Grammys? The name is short for “gramophone”—an early record player in which sound came out of a trumpet-shaped device. This is how you can throw a last minute award show party.
The First Tonys: Presented at midnight
These awards honor theatrical plays and musicals, and they’re named for actress-director Antoinette Perry. After her death in 1946, the idea of an award named to honor Perry caught on, and the top names in American theater voted on the nominees. On Easter Sunday in 1947, after an evening of dinner and dancing at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, the first Tonys were presented at midnight. The list of winners would thrill any theater lover: Helen Hayes, Fredric March, Jose Ferrer, Ingrid Bergman, Patricia Neal, Agnes de Mille, Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan, and Kurt Weill, just to name a few.
The First Emmys: Awarded for ‘Outstanding Personality’
The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences originally called their awards the “Immys”—short for “image-orthicon camera tube.” But the statue, a graceful, winged woman holding an atom, looked so feminine that by the first ceremony, everyone was calling it the Emmy. On January 25, 1949, at the Hollywood Athletic Club, the first Emmy was given to Shirley Dinsdale, for Outstanding Personality—Dinsdale hosted the kiddie show Judy Splinters. The Most Popular Program for 1949 was a game show: Pantomime Quiz Time. The show wasn’t broadcast on network TV until 1955.
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