The Seventh Annual Academy Awards: 1920

William S. Hart, the Third President of AMPAS

William S. Hart, the Third President of AMPAS

1920 was a year of many changes.

On January 16th, the 18th Amendment went into effect and prohibition became the law of the land.  Suddenly, it was illegal to transport and sell alcohol in the United States.  As social reformers rejoiced, the government grew and ordinary citizens started to hoard whatever liquor they had.  (Selling alcohol was illegal but drinking it was not.)  Perhaps the people happiest about prohibition were the gangsters who now had a totally new market to exploit.

On August 26th, the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed and, finally, all women were granted the right to vote.  And it came not a minute too late because it was time for the United States to elect a new president.  Weary after the nonstop drama of  8 years of Woodrow Wilson, the American electorate turned to Warren G. Harding, a little-known Republican who promised both a “return to normalcy” and to keep the U.S. out of the League of Nations.  On November 2nd, Harding was elected in a landslide, defeating Democrat James M. Cox.

And finally, the AMPAS also elected a new president.  After serving two successful terms as president of the Academy, Thomas H. Ince declined to run for a third term.  The award-winning actor William S. Hart was elected to take his place, easily defeating producer Lewis J. Selznick.  As President, Hart introduced one major change the Academy Awards.  In recognition to the growing number of films being produced annually, he suggested increasing the number of best picture nominees from 6 to 10.

As for the awards themselves, 1920 was perhaps the first year in which the Academy attempted to fix a previous error.  The previous year, Bolshevism on Trial had defeated D.W. Griffith‘s Broken Blossoms for best picture.  When Griffith released the epic melodrama Way Down East in 1920, there was little doubt that this would be the year that a Griffith film would finally win the award for best picture.

Despite the fact that Way Down East‘s victory was something of a foregone conclusion, the Academy still made history with the nominations.  Oscar Micheaux became the first African-American to be nominated for both best director and best picture for his film Within Our Gates.  (Ironically, Within Our Gates was meant to serve as a repudiation of Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.)  For her performance in Within Our Gates, Evelyn Preer received her second consecutive nomination.

As well, bothers John Barrymore and Lionel Barrymore both received nominations for best actor.  It was John’s second nomination and Lionel’s first.

The Awards Ceremony was held on February 20th, 1921 at the newly opened Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California.  The ceremony was again hosted by comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.  Along with the Barrymore brothers, Arbuckle was nominated for best actor that year, though all three of them lost to Charles Ogle.  However, Arbuckle did receive an honorary award, thanking him for his “service to the Academy.”  Everyone agreed that Arbuckle had somehow managed to make the first alcohol-free Academy Awards ceremony bearable.  Indeed, as the ceremony came to an end, there was no one as beloved in Hollywood, and perhaps in America, as Fatty Arbuckle.

In just a few months, that would all change.

Fatty Arbuckle, the most popular man in Hollywood

Fatty Arbuckle, the most popular man in Hollywood

The Seventh Annual Academy Awards

(Honoring films released in America from January 1st to December 31st, 1920.  

Winners are listed in bold and starred.)

Best Picture

The Devil’s Pass Key.  Produced by Carl Laemmle.  Universal.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Produced by Adolph Zukor.  Paramount.

The Mark of Zorro.  Produced by Douglas Fairbanks.  United Artists.

Over the Hill To The Poorhouse.  Produced by William Fox.  Fox Film Corporation.

The Penalty.  Produced by Samuel Goldwyn.  Goldwyn.

The Round-Up.  Produced by Jesse L. Lasky.  Paramount.

The Saphead.  Produced by Marcus Loew, John Golden, and Winchell Smith. Metro Pictures.

Sex.  Produced by J. Parker Read, Jr.  J. Parker Read Productions.

*Way Down East.  Produced by D.W. Griffith.  United Artists.

Within Our Gates.  Produced by Oscar Micheaux.  Micheaux Film.

Way Down East

Way Down East

Best Actor

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle in The Round-Up.  Paramount.

John Barrymore in Dr. Jekyll and My. Hyde.  Paramount.

Lionel Barrymore in The Copperhead.  Paramount.

Douglas Fairbanks in The Mark of Zorro.  United Artists.

Buster Keaton in The Saphead.  Metro Pictures.

*Charles Ogle in Treasure Island. Paramount.

Charles Ogle

Charles Ogle

Best Actress

*Mary Carr in Over The Hill To The Poorhouse.  Fox Film Corporation.

Elsie Ferguson in Lady Rose’s Daughter.  Paramount.

Lillian Gish in Way Down East.  United Artists.

Louise Glaum in Sex.  J. Parker Read Productions.

Mary Pickford in Suds.  United Artists.

Evelyn Preer in Within Our Gates.  Micheaux Pictures.

Mary Carr

Mary Carr

Best Director, Dramatic Picture

William F. Alder for Shipwrecked Among Cannibals.  Universal.

Tod Browning for Outside the Law.  Universal.

*D.W. Griffith for Way Down East.  United Artists.

Oscar Micheaux for Within Our Gates.  Micheaux Pictures

Fred Niblo for Sex.  J. Parker Read Productions.

Erich Von Stroheim for The Devil’s Pass Key.  Universal.

D.W. Griffith

D.W. Griffith

Best Director, Comedic Picture

Herbert Blache and Winchell Smith for The Saphead.  Metro Pictures.

John Francis Dillon for Suds.  United Artists.

Victor Fleming for The Mollycoddle.  United Artists.

John Ince for Old Lady 31.  Metro Pictures.

*George Melford for The Round-Up.  Paramount.

Paul Powell for Pollyanna.  United Artists.

George Melford

George Melford

Best Screenplay

*The Devil’s Pass Key.  Erich Von Stroheim.  Universal.

If I Were King. E.  Lloyd Sheldon.  Fox Film Corporation.

Over the Hill To The Poorhouse. Paul Sloane.  Fox Film Corporation.

The Penalty.  Charles Kenyon.  Goldwyn.

Sex.  C. Gardner Sullivan.  J. Parker Read Productions.

Way Down East. Anthony Paul Kelly.  United Artists.

Erich Von Stroheim

Erich Von Stroheim

Best Art Direction

The Devil’s Pass Key.  Richard Day. Universal.

The Last of the Mohicans.  Ben Carre. First National.

The Mark of Zorro. Edward Langley.  United Artists.

Outside the Law. Elmer Sheeley.  Universal.

*Sex.  W.L. Heywood.  J. Parker Read Productions.

Way Down East.  Clark Robinson.  United Artists.



Best Cinematography

The Copperhead.  Faxon M. Dean.  Paramount.

The Devil’s Pass Key. Ben F. Reynolds.  Universal.

The Jack-Knife Man. Ira H. Morgan.  First National.

The Last of the Mohicans. Phillip R. DuBois.  First National.

*Sex.  Charles J. Stumar.  J. Parker Read Productions.

Way Down East. G.W. Bitzer.  United Artists.



Best Engineering Effects

The Last of the Mohicans.  Maurice Tourneur. First National.

*The Mark of Zorro. Richard Talmadge.  United Artists.

The Penalty.  Lon Chaney.  Goldwyn.

Way Down East.  D.W. Griffith. United Artists.

The Mark of Zorro

The Mark of Zorro

Best Title Writing

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Clara Beranger.  Paramount.

The Last of the Mohicans.  Robert Dillon.  First National.

Outside the Law. Gardner Bradford.  Universal.

The Penalty. Charles Kenyon.  Goldwyn.

*The Saphead.  June Mathis.  Metro Pictures.

Within Our Gates.  Oscar Micheaux.  Micheaux Film.

The Saphead

The Saphead

Special Award

To Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle for his years of service to the Academy

Roscoe Arbuckle

Roscoe Arbuckle

Films By Number of Nominations

7 Nominations — Way Down East

6 Nominations — Sex

5 Nominations — The Devil’s Passkey

4 Nominations — The Last of the Mohicans, The Mark of Zorro, The Penalty, The Saphead, Within Our Gates

3 Nominations — Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Outside the Law, Over The Hill To The Poorhouse, The Round-up

2 Nominations — The Copperhead, Suds

1 Nominations — If I Were King, The Jack-Knife Man, Lady Rose’s Daughter, The Mollycoddle, Old Lady 31, Pollyanna, Shipwrecked Among The Cannibals, Treasure Island

Films By Number of Awards:

2 Awards — Sex, Way Down East

1 Award — The Devil’s Passkey, The Mark of Zorro, Over the Hill To The Poorhouse, The Round-Up, The Saphead, Treasure Island

Studios by Number of Nominations

15 Nominations — United Artists

10 Nominations — Paramount

9 Nominations — Universal

6 Nominations — J. Parker Read Productions

5 Nominations — First NationalMetro Pictures

4 Nominations — Fox Film, Goldwyn, Micheaux Films

Studios By Number of Awards Won

3 Awards — United Artists

2 Awards — J. Parker Read Productions, Paramount

1 Award — Fox Film, Metro Pictures, Universal


The number of best picture nominees is expanded to 10.

Oscar Micheaux is the first African-American to receive nominations for best director and best picture.

Best actor nominees John and Lionel Barrymore are brothers.

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.


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


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.