The Academy and the Award: The Coming of Age of Oscar and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Brandeis Univ. Oct. 2022. 512p. ISBN 9781684581191. $40. FILM
The story of the first 50 years (1927–77) of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and is fascinating, and the Academy’s former executive director Davis (who worked there for 30 years) is the ideal person to write it. Drawing on previously ignored documents, most notably the extensive board minutes, he lays to rest many myths. Cedric Gibbons didn’t first sketch Oscar on a tablecloth during dinner at the Biltmore. Mexican heartthrob Emilio Fernandez didn’t model the original statue. None of three stories about how the Oscar got its name convinces. (Davis offers a possible fourth.) One reason the Academy came into existence in 1927 was that movie mogul Louis B. Mayer was worried about unions. But other pressures pushed studios and artists toward a common end. The Jazz Singer premiered that year, creating a demand for sound technicians the industry didn’t have and performance standards not yet established. Local censorship was a problem with theater owners chopping pieces from films as they moved from first- to second-run theaters. An intriguing factoid: there’s never been a year when award categories and rules haven’t changed somehow.
VERDICT A book of wide appeal, starting but not ending with film buffs.
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