The Third Annual Academy Awards: 1916

Thomas H. Ince, the 2nd President of AMPAS

Thomas H. Ince, the 2nd President of AMPAS

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.

Thomas Ince directing

Thomas Ince directing

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.

Woodrow Wilson and Charles Evan Hughes

Woodrow Wilson and Charles Evans Hughes

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.

Intolerance

Intolerance

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.

Lillian Gish in Intolerance

Lillian Gish in Intolerance

The Awards Committee consisted of the following representatives:

  1. Former Academy President Mack Sennett, serving in place of Thomas Ince, who disqualified himself after being nominated for best producing and directing Civilization.
  2. Lewis J. Selznick, representing the Producer’s Branch
  3. Oscar C. Apfel, representing the Director’s Branch
  4. Charles Ogle, representing the Actor’s Branch
  5. Roy L. McCardell, representing the Writer’s Branch
  6. 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.

Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, host of the Third Annual Academy Awards

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, host of the Third Annual Academy Awards

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 Picture

*Civilization.  Produced by Thomas H. Ince.  Directed by Reginald Barker, Thomas H. Ince, and Roland West.  Triangle Distributing.

A Daughter of the Gods.  Produced by William Fox.  Directed by Herbert Brenon.  Fox Film Corporation.

East is East.  Produced by Florence Turner.  Directed by Henry Edwards.  Mutual Film.

Intolerance.  Produced and Directed by D.W. Griffith.  Triangle Distributing.

Oliver Twist.  Produced by Jesse L. Lasky.  Directed by James Young.  Paramount.

Where Are My Children?  Produced and Directed by Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley.  Universal.

A scene from Civilization

A scene from Civilization

Best Director, Comedy

Charles Chaplin for One A.M.  Mutual Film.

J. Searle Dawley for Snow White. Paramount.

Allan Dwan for The Habit of Happiness.  Triangle Distributing.

*John Emerson for The Americano. Triangle Distributing.

John Emerson

John Emerson

Best Director, Drama

Reginald Barker, Thomas H. Ince, and Roland West for Civilization.  Triangle Distributing.

Henry Edwards for East Is East.  Mutual Film.

D.W. Griffith for Intolerance.  Triangle Distributing.

*James Young for Oliver Twist.  Paramount.

James_Young_(director)

Best Actor

William Gillette in Sherlock Holmes.  Essanay Studios.

*William S. Hart in Hell’s Hinges.  Triangle Distributing.

Walter McGrail in Lights of New York. V-L-S-E.

Tyrone Power in Where Are My Children?  Universal.

William S. Hart in Hell's Hinges

William S. Hart in Hell’s Hinges

Best Actress

Marie Doro in Oliver Twist.  Paramount.

*Annette Kellerman in A Daughter of the Gods.  Fox Film Corporation.

Mary Pickford in Hulda From Holland.  Paramount.

Florence Turner in East is East.  Mutual Film.

Annette Kellerman

Annette Kellerman

Best Writing

La Boheme.  Frances Marion.  World Film.

*Civilization. C. Gardner Sullivan.  Triangle Distributing.

Intolerance.  D.W. Griffith.  Triangle Distributing.

Where Are My Children?  Lucy Payton and Franklin Hall.  Universal.

A scene from Civilization

A scene from Civilization

Best Cinematography

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  Eugene Gaudio.  Universal.

The Americano.  Victor Fleming.  Triangle Distributing.

Intolerance.  G.W. Bitzer.  Triangle Distributing.

*Joan the Woman.  Alvin Wyckoff.  Paramount.

Joan the Woman

Joan the Woman

Best Art Direction

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Frank Ormston. Universal.

*Civilization.  Joseph H. August.  Triangle Distributing.

A Daughter of the Gods.  John D. Braddon.  Fox Film Corporation.

Intolerance. Walter L. Hall. Triangle Distributing.

A scene from Civilization

A scene from Civilization

Best Engineering Effects

*20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.  Stuart Paton.  Universal.

Intolerance.  D.W. Griffith.  Triangle Distributing.

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Best Title Writing

The Americano.  Anita Loos.  Triangle Distributing.

Civilization. C. Gardner Sullivan.  Triangle Distributing.

Intolerance.  Anita Loos.  Triangle Distributing.

*Where Are My Children?  Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley.  Universal.

A scene from Where Are My Children?

A scene from Where Are My Children?

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

Trivia:

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.

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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.

The First Annual Academy Awards: 1914

Mack Sennett, the 1st President of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Mack Sennett, the 1st President of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Ironically, considering its current prominence in American culture, the origins of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are shrouded in mystery.

Reportedly, in February of 1914, a meeting was held in New York City that led to the founding of the Academy.  While all exact records appear to be lost, it is generally agreed that the meeting was attended by Mack Sennett, Thomas H. Ince, William Randolph Hearst, Charles O. Baumann, John R. Freuler, Samuel S. Hutchinson, Jesse Lasky, William Fox, Adolph Zukor, D.W. Griffith, Cecil B. DeMille, William Kennedy Dickson, Mary Pickford, J. Stuart Blackton, Albert E. Smith, Carl Laemmle, and L. Frank Baum.  By the end of the meeting, not only had the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences been formally established but producer/director Mack Sennett of Keystone Pictures had been named the organization’s first president.

While the Academy has become best known for hosting the annual Academy Awards, most film historian agree that the awards were originally something of an afterthought.  Instead, the Academy was founded by a handful of producers and other film professionals who were hoping that the organization would help to improve the young film industry’s image and potentially be used as a tool to combat Thomas Edison‘s attempts to monopolize and control all film production in the United States.  The Academy was much more concerned with labor practices and distribution deals than it was with awards.

In another attempt to try to improve the image of the film industry, the first Academy Awards were selected by a jury of prominent and respected men, none of whom were involved with the movies.  The 6-member jury consisted of:

  1. Howard Elliott, President of New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad
  2. Frank Diehl Fackenthal, educator
  3. George B. McClellan, Jr., former Mayor of New York City
  4. George Cooper Pardee, former Governor of California
  5. Francis Ouimet, golfer
  6. Booth Tarkington, writer

There is some debate as to how involved the members of the jury were in actually selecting the awards, with some historians claiming that the jury did watch every film released in 1914 while others have claimed that the selections were largely made by William Randolph Hearst, Jesse Lasky, and Mack Sennett.

(Among those who felt that Hearst, Lasky, and Sennett exercised undue influence was L. Frank Baum, who was so angry that none of his Oz films were awarded anything that he resigned from the Academy.)

The very first awards ceremony was held on the night of January 15th, 1915, in the Empire Room of the Waldorf Hotel in New York City.  After dinner, guests listened to a speech from Mack Sennett, after which Sennett proceeded to hand out certificates of merits to the honorees, all of whom had been informed of their victory ahead of time.  Reportedly, there were no acceptance speeches.  After the awards had been handed out, Democratic New York State Senator Stanford Von Willken Moore IV delivered a speech on the importance of eugenics, world peace, segregation, and prohibition.

The 1914 Academy Awards

(All films released in the U.S. during 1914 were considered to be eligible.  Only winners were announced)

Best Picture

The Squaw Man, produced by Jesse L. Lasky, directed by Cecil B. DeMille and Oscar Apfel.  Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company.

Dustin Farnum and Lillian St. Cyr in The Squaw Man

Dustin Farnum and Lillian St. Cyr in The Squaw Man

Best Director

Edward S. Curtis for In The Land of the Head Hunters.  World Film.

A scene from In The Land of the Headhunters

A scene from In The Land of the Head Hunters

Best Actor

Henry B. Walthall in The Avenging Conscience.  Mutual Film.

Henry B. Walthall in The Avenging Conscience

Henry B. Walthall in The Avenging Conscience

Best Actress

Blanche Sweet in Judith of Bethulia.  Biograph Company.

Blanche Sweet in Judith of Bethulia

Blanche Sweet in Judith of Bethulia

Best Screenplay

Mr . Barnes of New York.  Eugene Mullin. Vitagraph Studios.

A scene from Mr. Barnes of New York

A scene from Mr. Barnes of New York

Trivia:

The Squaw Man is the first western to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Both the winner for best actor and for best actress appeared in films directed by D.W. Griffith.

For the first of two times, no nominees were announced before the ceremony.

For the first of two times, no film won more than a single Oscar.