The Sixth Annual Academy Awards: 1919

Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer

Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer

In 1919, as the Spanish Flu continued to infect and kill millions, the world tried to recover from World War I.  After spending six months at the Paris Peace Conference, President Woodrow Wilson returned to the U.S. and launched an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to bring the United States into the newly formed League of Nations.  On September 25th, while barnstorming across the nation in support of the League, a physically exhausted Wilson collapsed and never truly recovered.  On October 2nd, a stroke left him partially paralyzed and blind in one eye.

Even before Wilson’s physical collapse, the U.S. population had reason to feel uncertain about the future.  On January 6th, the wildly popular Theodore Roosevelt died in his sleep.  Before his death, Roosevelt had been widely expected to run for President in 1920 and hopefully return the U.S. to the peace and prosperity that it knew before the Wilson years.

In April, anarchists mailed at least 39 bombs to prominent businessmen and political leaders.  On June 2nd, these same anarchists managed to detonate 8 large bombs nearly simultaneously in 8 large cities.  If the bombers were hoping that their actions would lead to a revolution similar to the one that had recently occurred in Russia, they were soon proven incorrect.  Instead, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer , who was himself hoping to win the Presidency in 1920, launched a series of so-called Palmer Raids, targeting anyone who might be considered a subversive.

The anarchist bombings also led to one of the greatest upsets in Academy history.  When the Academy Award nominations were announced in January of 1920, most observers felt that the race was between Universal‘s Blind Husbands, United Artist‘s Broken Blossoms, and the Paramount action-comedy The Roaring Road, all of which received 7 nominations.  Blind Husbands and Broken Blossoms were both prestige pictures and The Roaring Road was one of the most popular films of the year.  As well, Broken Blossoms was directed by D.W. Griffith and many felt that it was finally time for a Griffith film to win best picture.

Instead, when the Fatty Arbuckle-hosted awards ceremony was held on February 20th, 1920 at the Hollywood Hotel, the awards for picture, director, and screenplay went to a low-budget film called Bolshevism on Trial.  Based on a novel by Thomas Dixon (who also wrote The Clansman, the novel that inspired D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation), Bolshevism on Trial told the story of a misguided and wealthy activists who attempt to start a commune on an island off the Florida coast, just to have power seized by an evil Socialist agitator named Herman.  Bolshevism on Trial may not have been as polished as the other nominees but it both tapped into the national mood and confirmed what many Americans believed about Marxism.  Bolshevism On Trial was nominated for 4 award and won 3 of them, leaving many to wonder whether D.W. Griffith was forever destined to always be a contender but never a winner.

As for the other awards, the famous magician Harry Houdini won best actor, largely for playing himself in The Grim Game.  However, shortly after winning, Houdini abandoned his acting career, saying that he could make more money by concentrating on his stage show.  Evelyn Preer made history as the first African-American to be nominated for best actress.  (She was nominated for a “race picture”, Oscar Micheaux‘s The Homesteader.)  However, the award itself was won by Mary Miles Minter for her lead role in William Desmond Taylor‘s Anne of Green Gables.

The Sixth Annual Academy Awards

(Honoring films released between January 1st and December 31st, 1919.  Winners are starred and listed in bold)

Best Picture

Blind Husbands.  Produced by Carl Laemmle.  Universal.

*Bolshevism on Trial.  Produced by Lewis J. Selzinck.  Select Pictures.

Broken Blossoms.  Produced by D.W. Griffith.  United Artists.

The Lost Battalion.  Produced by Edward McManus.  W.H. Productions.

The Miracle Man.  Produced by George Loane Tucker.  Paramount.

The Roaring Road.  Produced by Jesse L. Lasky.  Paramount.

A scene from Bolshevism on Trial

A scene from Bolshevism on Trial

Best Director, Comedy

*James Cruze for The Roading Road.  Paramount.

Joseph Henabery for His Majesty, the American.  United Artists.

Marshall Neilan for Daddy-Long-Legs.  First National.

William Desmond Taylor for Anne of Green Gables. Paramount.

James Cruze

James Cruze

Best Director, Drama

D.W. Griffith for Broken Blossoms.  United Artists.

*Harley Knoles for Bolshevism on Trial.  Select Pictures.

George Loane Tucker for The Miracle Man.  Paramount.

Erich Von Stroheim for Blind Husbands.  Universal.

A scene from Bolshevism on Trial

A scene from Bolshevism on Trial

Best Actor

Richard Barthelmess for Broken Blossoms.  United Artists.

*Harry Houdini for The Grim Game.  Paramount.

Thomas Meighan for The Miracle Man.  Paramount.

Wallace Reid for The Roaring Road.  Paramount.

Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini

Best Actress

Lillian Gish in Broken Blossoms.  United Artists.

Louise Glaum in Sahara. Pathe.

*Mary Miles Minter in Anne of Green Gables. Paramount.

Evelyn Preer in The Homesteader.  Micheaux Film.

Mary Miles Minter

Mary Miles Minter

Best Writing

Blind Husbands.  Erich Von Stroheim.  Universal.

*Bolshevism on Trial.  Harry Chandlee.  Select Pictures.

Broken Blossoms.  D.W. Griffith.  United Artists.

Sahara.  C. Gardner Sullivan.  Pathe.

Bolshevism_on_Trial

Best Cinematography

Blind Husbands.  Ben F. Reynolds.  Universal.

Bolshevism on Trial.  Philip Hatkin.  Select Pictures.

*Broken Blossoms.  G.W. Bitzer.  United Artists.

The Roaring Road.  Frank Urson.  Paramount.

G.W. Bitzer

G.W. Bitzer

Best Art Direction

The Avalanche.  George Fitzmaurice.  Paramount.

*Blind Husbands. Richard Day.  Universal.

Male and Female.  Wilfred Buckland.  Paramount.

The Roaring Road.  Wilfred Buckland.  Paramount.

Blind Husbands

Blind Husbands

Best Engineering Effects

Blind Husbands.  Erich Von Stroheim.  Universal.

The Grim Game.  Harry Houdini.  Paramount.

*The Lost Battalion.  Burton L. King.  W.H. Productions.

The Roaring Road.  Frank Urson.  Paramount.

The Lost Battalion

The Lost Battalion

Best Title Writing

Blind Husbands.  Lillian Ducey.  Universal.

Broken Blossoms.  D.W. Griffith.  United Artists.

Male and Female.  Jeanie MacPherson.  Paramount.

*The Roaring Road.  Marion Fairfax.  Paramount.

The Roaring Road

The Roaring Road

Films By Number of Nominations:

7 Nominations — Blind Husbands, Broken Blossoms, The Roaring Road

4 Nominations — Bolshevism on Trial

3 Nominations — The Miracle Man

2 Nominations — Anne of Green Gables, The Grim Game, The Lost Battalion, Male and Female, Sahara

1 Nominations — The Avalanche, Daddy-Long-Legs, His Majesty, the American, The Homesteader

Films By Number of Awards

3 Awards — Bolshevism on Trial

2 Awards — The Roaring Road

1 Award — Anne of Green Gables, Blind Husbands, Broken Blossoms, The Grim Game, The Lost Battalion

Studios By Number of Nominations

17 Nominations — Paramount

8 Nominations — United Artists

7 Nominations — Universal

4 Nominations — Select Films

2 Nominations — Pathe, W.H. Productions

1 Nomination — First National, Micheaux Film

Studios By Number of Awards

4 Awards — Paramount

3 Awards — Select

1 Award — United Artists, Universal, W.H. Productions

Trivia:

Evelyn Preer is the first African-American to be nominated for best actress, as well as being the first African-American to be nominated overall.

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The Fourth Annual Academy Awards: 1917

The host of the 4th Annual Academy Awards, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle

The host of the 4th Annual Academy Awards, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

On March 4th, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson took the oath of office and began his second term of President.  Just a few months earlier, he had run for reelection on a platform of maintaining American neutrality in the war that was ravaging Europe.  His slogan was “He Kept Us Out Of War,” and it was enough to allow him to survive one of the closest elections in U.S. History.

One month later, the U.S. declared war on Germany and entered into what would come to be called World War I.

Whereas the previous year had been dominated by films, like the Award-winning Civilization, that promoted neutrality and world peace, 1917 saw the release of several films that were designed to support the American war effort.  The pacifism of Civilization was forgotten as the box office embraced both patriotism and escapism.

Audiences looking for patriotism flocked to The Little American.  Directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Mary Pickford, The Little American featured Pickford as Angela, an American woman who falls in love with two soldiers, one German and one French, during the opening days of World War I.  Also popular was Universal’s The Man Without a Country, in which a treasonous pacifist is convinced to support the war effort by reading and visualizing Edward Everett Hale’s famous short story.

Audiences looking for an escape from the grim reality of war flocked to see Fox’s Cleopatra, an extravagant recreation of the ancient Rome that starred Theda Bara as Cleopatra and Fritz Leiber, Sr. as Julius Caesar.  Also popular was Golden Rule Kate, a comedic western that starred Louise Glaum.  Finally, there was William Desmond Taylor’s adaptation of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, starring the popular Jack Pickford (younger brother of Mary) in the title role.

For the first time, there was speculation in some contemporary California newspapers over which films wold actually be nominated for an Academy Award.  In the days leading up to the announcement of the nominations, it was generally agreed that the probable nominees for best picture would be Cleopatra, Golden Rule Kate, The Little American, The Man Without A Country, Tom Sawyer, and Wild and Woolly, a Douglas Fairbanks comedy.

When the nominations were announced on January 20th, 1918, The Little American led with 7 nominations, followed by Cleopatra with 6,  Tom Sawyer with 5, and Golden Rule Kate and The Man Without A Country with 4 each.  With the exception of a nomination for director John Emerson, Wild and Woolly was almost totally snubbed.  Instead, the 6th best picture nomination went to One Law For Both, a little-seen melodrama from independent filmmaker Ivan Abramson that managed to tie Tom Sawyer with a total five nominations.

As a part of his effort to attract more industry professionals into the organization, Academy President Thomas H. Ince again reformed the voting process, doing away with the jury system.  While the nominations were still made by the individual branches, the 1917 awards were the first to be voted on by the entire membership of the Academy.

The ceremony was held, at the Hollywood Hotel, on the evening of February 20th, 1917.  The ceremony was again hosted by the popular comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and also featured a speech from U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson.

The awards were a family affair, with siblings Mary and Jack Pickford winning both of the acting awards.  (This was Mary Pickford’s third nomination and second victory.)  The Little American won best picture, with Cecil B. DeMille winning his second award for Best Director, Drama.  William Desmond Taylor won the award for Best Director, Comedy while Cleopatra settled for two technical awards.

The Fourth Annual Academy Awards

(Honoring films released in the U.S. between January 1st and December 31st, 1917.  Winners are starred and listed in bold)

Best Picture

Cleopatra.  Produced William Fox.  Directed by J. Gordon Edwards.  Fox Films.

Golden Rule Kate.  Produced by Thomas H. Ince.  Directed by Reginald Barker.  Triangle Distributing.

*The Little American.  Produced by Mary Pickford.  Directed by Cecil B. DeMille.  Artcraft.

The Man Without A Country.  Produced by Edwin Thanhouser.  Directed by Ernest C. Warde.  Universal.

One Law For Both.  Produced and Directed by Ivan Abramson.  Ivan Film.

Tom Sawyer.  Produced by Jesse L. Lasky.  Directed by William Desmond Taylor.  Paramount.

A scene from The Little American

A scene from The Little American

Best Director, Comedy

John Emerson for Wild and Woolly.  Artcraft.

Wray Physioc for The Gulf Between.  Technicolor Motion Picture Corp.

*William Desmond Taylor for Tom Sawyer.  Paramount.

Maurice Tourneur for The Poor Little Rich Girl.  Artcraft.

William Desmond Taylor

William Desmond Taylor

Best Director, Drama

Ivan Abramson for One Law For Both.  Ivan Film.

Reginald Barker for Golden Rule Kate.  Triangle Distributing.

*Cecil B. DeMille for The Little American.  Artcraft.

J. Gordon Edwards for Cleopatra.  Fox Films.

Cecil B. DeMille

Cecil B. DeMille

Best Actor

John Barrymore in Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman.  Hiller & Wilk.

Holmes Herbert in The Man Without A Country.  Universal.

Harold Lockwood in Paradise Garden.  Metro Pictures.

*Jack Pickford in Tom Sawyer.  Paramount.

Jack Pickford

Jack Pickford

Best Actress

Theda Bara in Cleopatra.  Fox Films.

Rita Jolivet in One Law For Both.  Ivan Film.

*Mary Pickford in The Little American.  Artcraft.

Kathlyn Williams in Big Timber.  Paramount.

Mary Pickford in The Little American

Mary Pickford in The Little American

Best Writing

*The Little American.  Jeanie MacPherson.  Artcraft.

Cleopatra.  Adrian Johnson.  Fox Films.

One Law For Both.  Ivan Abramson.  Ivan Film.

Tom Sawyer.  Julia Crawford Ivers.  Paramount.

Jeanie MacPherson

Jeanie MacPherson

Best Cinematography

The Bad Boy.  David Abel.  Triangle Distributing.

*Cleopatra.  George Schniederman.  Fox Films.

Golden Rule Kate.  Joseph August.  Triangle Distributing.

The Little American.  Alvin Wyckoff.  Artcraft.

Cleopatra

Cleopatra

Best Art Design

*Cleopatra.  George James Hopkins.  Fox Films.

The Little American.  Wilfred Buckland.  Artcraft.

The Poor Little Rich Girl.  Ben Carre.  Artcraft.

Tom Sawyer.  Homer Scott.  Paramount.

Cleopatra

Cleopatra

Best Engineering Effects

The Little American.  Joseph Levering.  Artcraft.

The Man Without A Country.  Ernest C. Warde.  Universal.

Straight Shooting. George Scott. Universal.

*The Gulf Between.  Carl Gregory.  Technicolor Motion Picture Corp.

A scene from The Gulf Between, an early color film

A scene from The Gulf Between, an early color film

Best Title Writing

Camille.  Adrian Johnson.  Fox Film Corporation.

Golden Rule Kate. Monte M. Katterjohn.  Triangle Distributing.

The Man Without A Country.  Lloyd Lonergan.  Universal.

*One Law For Both.  Ivan Abramson.  Ivan Film.

One Law For Both

One Law For Both

Films By Number of Nominations:

7 Nominations — The Little American

6 Nominations — Cleopatra

5 Nominations — One Law For Both, Tom Sawyer

4 Nominations — Golden Rule Kate, The Man Without A Country

2 Nominations — The Gulf Between, The Poor Little Rich Girl

1 Nominations — The Bad Boy, Big Timber, Camille, Raffles The Amateur Crasksmith, Paradise Garden, Straight Shooting, Wild and Woolly

Films By Number Of Awards

4 Awards — The Little American

2 Awards — Cleopatra, Tom Sawyer

1 Awards — The Gulf Between, One Law For Both

Studios By Number Of Nominations

10 Nominations — Artcraft

7 Nominations — Fox Film

6 Nominations — Paramount, Universal

5 Nominations — Ivan Film, Triangle Distributing

2 Nominations — Technicolor Motion Picture Corp.

1 Nominations — Hiller & Wilk, Metro Pictures

Studios By Number of Awards

4 Awards — Artcraft

2 Awards — Fox Film, Paramount

1 Award — Ivan Film, Technicolor Motion Picture Corp.

Trivia

For the first time, the entire Academy membership votes for the awards.

Best Actor winner Jack Pickord and Best Actress winner Mary Pickford are siblings.

Mary Pickford is the first woman to win the award for best picture.

Mary Pickford wins her second award for acting.

Cecil B. DeMille wins his second award for directing and his second award for best picture.

The Second Annual Academy Awards: 1915

John Wilkes Booth (Raoul Walsh) flees after shooting Abraham Lincoln in D.W. Griffith's Birth Of A Nation

John Wilkes Booth (Raoul Walsh) flees after shooting Abraham Lincoln in D.W. Griffith’s Birth Of A Nation

The second annual Academy Awards were handed out on January 20th, 1916.  For the second and final time, the ceremony took place in the Empire Room of the Waldorf Hotel in New York City.  Just as in the previous year, the awards were handed out after dinner and a speech from Academy President Mack Sennett.  Again, the winners were announced before the actual ceremony and were given certificates of achievement.  According to contemporary reports, the winners who were present all gave brief acceptance speeches but nobody bothered to record what anyone said.

As in the previous year, winners were selected by a jury of distinguished citizens.  The 1915 jury consisted of:

  1. Harry Chandler, businessman
  2. Owen McAleer, former mayor of Los Angeles, California
  3. Ellery Sedgwick, publisher of Atlantic Monthly
  4. Mack Sennett, director, producer, and President of the Academy
  5. Jess Willard, world heavyweight boxing champion
  6. Harry Leon Wilson, novelist
  7. General Leonard Wood

Behind the scenes, the 2nd Annual Academy Awards were mired in controversy and drama.  It all boiled down to one question: What to do about Birth of a Nation?  Directed and produced by Academy co-founder D.W. Griffith, Birth of a Nation set records for both its running time and its popularity at the box office.  It was also the first American film to ever be screened at the White House and was reportedly highly praised by President Woodrow Wilson.  Many members of the Academy — including D.W. Griffith, who aggressively campaigned for his film — felt that there was no way the film could be denied the award for best picture.

However, there were other members of the Academy who felt that, as an organization dedicated to improving the image of the film industry, there was no way they could honor Griffith’s film.  Birth of a Nation was a highly controversial film.  An epic set during and after the Civil War, Birth of a Nation was pro-Confederate in its sentiments and it portrayed the Ku Klux Klan in a heroic light.  Even by the standards of 1915, Birth of a Nation was a shockingly racist film.  The film was protested by both the NAACP and social reformer Jane Addams.  Following showings of the film, race riots broke out in Boston and Philadelphia.  Several local censorship boards, citing concerns that the film was un-American and that showings would lead to violence, refused to allow the film to play in their cities.

When the awards were announced, Birth of a Nation only received one, for best engineering effects.  An angry Griffith declined to attend the ceremony and his certificate of achievement still sits, unclaimed, in the Academy archives.  Reportedly, Griffith held Mack Sennett responsible for the failure of Birth of a Nation to win best picture.

Instead, the award for best picture went to Regeneration, a film about a gangster (Rockliffe Fellowes) who is redeemed by the love of a good woman (Anna Q. Nilsson).  A  box office and critical success when it was first released, Regeneration is considered to be the first gangster film.  Ironically, the film’s director, Raoul Walsh, played John Wilkes Booth in Birth of a Nation.

Along with honoring Regeneration, the jury awarded a special award to Giovanni Pastrone, the director of the Italian epic Cabiria.  Cabiria was one of the most acclaimed films to be released in America in 1915 and was apparently given some consideration for the best picture award before the jury decided that the award should go to an American film.

Finally, the popular Mary Pickford won her first Academy Award for her performance in Madame Butterfly.  Despite the award, Pickford always considered Madame Butterfly to be one of her least favorite of her many films.

The 2nd Annual Academy Awards

(All films released in the U.S. during 1915 were considered to be eligible.  Only winners were announced)

Best Picture

Regeneration.  Produced by William Fox.  Directed by Raoul Walsh.  Fox Film Corporation.

A Scene From Regeneration

A Scene From Regeneration

Best Director, Comedy Picture

Christy Cabanne for Double Trouble.  Triangle Film Corporation.

Christy Cabanne

Christy Cabanne

Best Director, Dramatic Picture

Cecil B. DeMille for The Cheat.  Paramount.

Cecil B. DeMille

Cecil B. DeMille

Best Actor

George Beban in The Italian.  Paramount.

George Beban in The Italian

George Beban in The Italian

Best Actress

Mary Pickford in Madame Butterfly.  Paramount.

Mary Pickford

Mary Pickford

Best Writing

The Senator.  Sydney Rosenfeld.  Triumph Films.

Sydney_Rosenfeld_(1892)

Best Cinematography

Inspiration.  Lawrence E. Williams.  Mutual Films.

A scene from Inspiration

A scene from Inspiration

Best Art Direction

Carmen.  Georges Benoit and George Schniederman.  Fox Film Corporation.

Theda Bara in Carmen

Theda Bara in Carmen

Best Engineering Effects

The Birth of a Nation.  D.W. Griffith.  Epoch Producing Corporation.

D.W. Griffith

D.W. Griffith

Best Title Writing.

A Fool There Was.  Porter Emerson Browne.  Fox Film Corporation.

A Fool There Was by Porter Emerson Browne

A Fool There Was by Porter Emerson Browne

Special Award

Cabiria.  Directed by Giovanni Pastrone.  George Kleine Attractions.

A scene from Cabiria

A scene from Cabiria

Trivia:

Regeneration is the first crime film to ever win the Academy Award for best picture.

Cabiria is both the first Italian and the first non-American film to win an Academy Award.

Cecil B. DeMille became the first person to win two Oscars.  (He was previously recognized for directing the 1914 best picture winner, The Squaw Man.)

For the second of two times, there are no nominees and only the winners are announced.

For the second of two times, no film wins more than one award.