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.



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.



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.


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.


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


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.