In the long history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1916 was dominated by one man: Thomas H. Ince.
Today, Ince is a largely forgotten figure and his many accomplishments have been overshadowed by the mysterious and potentially sordid circumstances of his death in 1924. However, in 1916, Ince was one of the most popular figures working in the film industry. He was the first producer to build his own studio in California and, with D.W. Griffith and Academy President Mack Sennett, founded the Triangle Motion Picture Company. When, following the 2nd Academy Awards ceremony, Sennett announced the he would not be running for a second term as president of the AMPAS, Ince was the obvious choice to replace him.
As President, Ince immediately launched a recruiting drive to bring more industry professionals into the organization and set about restructuring the AMPAS, dividing membership into five separate branches — Producers, Actors, Directors, Writers, and Technicians.
Ince also changed the method by which the Academy Awards were determined. Abandoning the previous method of using a “jury of distinguished citizens,” each branch would now make their own nominations. After the nominations had been determined, each branch would elect one representative to sit on the committee that would select the actual winners.
Along with being the President of the Academy, Ince was also the producer and co-director of one of the leading award contenders. Civilization told the story of Count Ferdinand (Howard C. Hickman), a nobleman in a fictional European kingdom. Assigned to command a ship in battle, Ferdinand refuses to fire a torpedo at a civilian ocean liner and loses his life as a result. After descending to purgatory, Ferdinand is recruited by Jesus himself and sent back among the living to preach world peace Released at a time when Europe was at war and President Woodrow Wilson was running for reelection on a platform of international neutrality, Civilization was a critical and box office success. When Wilson was narrowly reelected over Charles Hughes, the Democratic National Committee publicly praised the role played by Civilization.
Civilization‘s main competition came from D.W. Griffith’s epic Intolerance. Ironically enough, both Intolerance and Civilization were distributed by Triangle Film and both featured Jesus as a supporting character. However, in Intolerance, the story of Jesus was just one of four separate storylines, all of which were meant to portray the role of intolerance throughout human history. (The film itself was largely designed as a response to what Griffith viewed as being unfair criticism of his previous epic, Birth of a Nation.) At that point in cinematic history, Intolerance was the most extravagant and expensive film ever made. Unfortunately, it was also a failure at the box office.
Other contenders included Universal‘s abortion-themed melodrama, Where Are My Children?, Paramount‘s adaptation of Oliver Twist, Fox Film‘s A Daughter of the Gods (which received a lot of attention for star Annette Kellerman‘s nude scene), and a British class drama called East is East.
When the nominations were announced, Intolerance led with 7 nominations, followed by Civilization with 5. Overall, the nominations were dominated by films released by Triangle Film. Film distributed by Triangle received a total of 17 nominations. 2nd place Universal received seven.
The Awards Committee consisted of the following representatives:
- Former Academy President Mack Sennett, serving in place of Thomas Ince, who disqualified himself after being nominated for best producing and directing Civilization.
- Lewis J. Selznick, representing the Producer’s Branch
- Oscar C. Apfel, representing the Director’s Branch
- Charles Ogle, representing the Actor’s Branch
- Roy L. McCardell, representing the Writer’s Branch
- George Schniederman, representing the Technician’s Branch
As an indication that the American film industry was abandoning New York City and heading out west, the ceremony was held, for the first time, in California. The Awards Ceremony was held on February 20th, 1917, at the Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles. The ceremony was hosted by popular comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.
For the first time, the winners were not announced ahead of time. All of the nominees were present at the ceremony but there are no records as to whether or not they were surprised by either the success of Civilization or the total failure of Intolerance. Out of 7 nominations, Intolerance won zero awards. Civilization picked up three awards, including best picture. Perhaps the most popular winner was cowboy star William S. Hart, who won best actor for Hell’s Hinges and defeated the presumed favorite, Where Are My Children‘s Tyrone Power.
The Third Annual Academy Awards
(Honoring film released in the U.S. between January 1st and December 31st of 1916. Winners are starred and listed in bold.)
Best Director, Comedy
Best Director, Drama
Best Art Direction
Best Engineering Effects
Best Title Writing
Films By Number of Nominations:
Intolerance — 7 Nominations
Civilization — 5 Nominations
Where Are My Children? — 4 Nominations
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea — 3 Nominations
The Americano — 3 Nominations
A Daughter of the Gods — 3 Nominations
East is East — 3 Nominations
Oliver Twist — 3 Nominations
La Boheme — 1 Nomination
The Habit of Happiness — 1 Nomination
Hell’s Hinges — 1 Nomination
Hulda of Holland — 1 Nomination
Joan the Woman — 1 Nomination
Lights of New York — 1 Nomination
One A.M. — 1 Nomination
Sherlock Holmes — 1 Nomination
Snow White — 1 Nomination
Films By Number of Awards Won:
Civilization — 3 Academy Awards
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea — 1 Academy Award
The Americano — 1 Academy Award
Daughter of the Gods — 1 Academy Award
Hell’s Hinges — 1 Academy Award
Joan The Woman — 1 Academy Award
Oliver Twist — 1 Academy Award
Where Are My Children? — 1 Academy Awards
Studios By Number Of Nominations:
Triangle Distributing — 17 Nominations
Universal — 7 Nominations
Paramount — 6 Nominations
Mutual Films — 4 Nominations
Fox Film Corporation — 3 Nominations
Essanay Studios — 1 nomination
V-L-S-E –1 Nominations
World Film — 1 Nominations
Studios By Number of Academy Awards Won:
Triangle Distributing — 5 Academy Awards
Paramount — 2 Academy Awards
Universal — 2 Academy Awards
Fox Film Corporation — 1 Academy Award
Civilization is the first war film to win best picture.
Mary Pickford is the first person to receive a consecutive acting nomination and a consecutive nomination overall.
For the first time, nominees are announced before the ceremony.
For the first time, the winners are not announced ahead of time.
For the first time, the Awards Ceremony is held in California.