The Academy Awards ceremony has seen its share of strangeness
Originally appeared in The Daily.
Emil Jannings, the first man to win an Oscar, would go on to become a Nazi. In 1929, the newly convened Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences informed Jannings that he would be honored as the year’s Best Actor for his roles as a Russian officer in “The Last Command” and as a Milwaukee bank clerk in “The Way of All Flesh.” Jannings accepted the honor, but didn’t attend the ceremony, preferring to go back to Europe — he had a German mother and had been born in Switzerland — and in a few years, he joined the movie industry of the Third Reich.
By turning down an invitation to the first Academy Awards ceremony, Jannings spared himself from becoming embroiled in an event that was somehow even duller and less funny than the preposterous ceremonies the movie industry has inflicted on itself for the subsequent 81 years. That first ceremony wasn’t recorded or broadcast, and only 300 people showed up. In the years that followed, ceremonies were dominated by orotund speechifying by such thrilling figures as Charles Curtis, the prohibitionist Kansan and U.S. vice president. If the speeches in the current ceremonies seem too long (they are limited to 45 seconds), bear in mind that in the early years they didn’t even get around to passing out the first award until after midnight.