The Academy Awards season is always a fun time for movie fans to delve into celluloid history, and, here at WB.com, we're no different. Here are ten Oscar "firsts" that buffs might find interesting. These ten films are all part of the immense Warner Bros. Film Library.
In 1927, Warner Bros. produced the first "talkie" film,
The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson. Initially conceived as a silent feature film, with synchronized singing sequences built around Jolson, there was never any intention to have dialogue in the film, but during his first vocal performance (shown in the video clip above), Jolson improvised the words: "Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet!" Warner Bros. received an Honorary Award from the Academy, which stated: "For producing The Jazz Singer, the pioneer outstanding talking picture, which has revolutionized the industry.” Within two years, nearly 8,000 theaters were wired for sound, and silent films would soon become virtually extinct.
James Cagney starred in 1935's
A Midsummer Night's Dream, the first film adaptation of a Shakespeare play to be nominated for a "Best Picture." This classic cinematic achievement did win two Oscars (although not "Best Picture") with one of those Oscar victories--"Best Cinematography"--being another "first" as cinematographer Hal Mohr wasn't even nominated, but received enough write-in votes to win, becoming the first and only "write-in" Oscar winner in history.
By winning the "Best Supporting Actress" award for her memorable performance as Scarlett O'Hara's outspoken housemaid Mammy in 1939's classic
Gone with the Wind, Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American actor to ever win an Academy Award.
In 1947, the Warner Bros. animation division broke the string of Oscar wins by Disney and MGM in the "Best Short Subject, Cartoons" category, with the introduction of future animation icons Tweety and Sylvester (although he was named Thomas in this debut) in
Tweetie Bird. Our animation division would go on to win four more Oscars in this category over the next decade.
A Streetcar Named Desire became the first film to win Oscars in three of the four acting categories (a feat matched only by 1976's Network). Vivien Leigh, pictured above with Oscar nominee Marlon Brando, won for "Best Actress," while Kim Hunter and Karl Malden each won for their supporting roles. Ironically, Brando was the only one of the nominated quartet to go home statue-less, although his passionate cries of "Stella! Stella! Stella!" remain etched forever in Hollywood history.
The Exorcist, the horror genre could no longer be ignored by the Academy which bestowed TEN nominations on this controversial and still shocking fright-fest, including "Best Picture." Ultimately, the film picked up two Oscars (for Writing and Sound), but another horror film would not receive another "Best Picture" nom for nearly another 20 years when 1991's thriller The Silence of the Lambs won the Oscar.
In 1976's hit
Network, Faye Dunaway is the TV exec who will do anything for ratings in this powerful satire. Best known for Peter Finch's on-air speech as newsman Howard Beale, in which he proclaims: "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!" Network received six nominations in the Big Five categories ("Best Picture," "Best Director," "Best Actor," "Best Actress" and "Best Screenplay"), the first and only film to do so. Dunaway won "Best Actress," Finch won for "Best Actor," Paddy Chayefsky grabbed "Best Screenplay" and Beatrice Straight garnered "Best Supporting Actress" laurels. Sadly, Finch, who died shortly before the Oscar ceremony, was also the first person to win a posthumous Academy Award. He was followed 30 years later by Heath Ledger for his performance in The Dark Knight.
Actress Linda Hunt (pictured above with Mel Gibson), in a gender-bending performance that won her the "Best Supporting Actress" Oscar, played the male Asian photographer Billy Kwan in 1982's
The Year of Living Dangerously, the dramatic tale of a reporter covering the Indonesia political coup of 1965. Hunt's groundbreaking performance as Kwan also garnered her a Golden Globe that same year.
The Fugitive, based on the hit Sixties' television series of the same name, was a box-office blockbuster that earned seven Oscar nominations, including one for "Best Picture," the first TV adaptation to do so. Tommy Lee Jones, pictured above, won the Oscar for his powerhouse performance as the relentless Deputy U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard, who would stop at nothing to capture escaped convict Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford).
While films that fall into the "fantasy" genre can be box-office monsters, it wasn't until 2003 that a film from this popular genre actually won the "Best Picture" Oscar. In this case, it was Peter Jackson's final installment of
The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, which also went on to tie the record for the most Oscar wins (11).