History of the Academy
How It Began
In early 1927, during dinner at the home of M-G-M's studio chief Louis B. Mayer, Mayer and three of his guests – actor Conrad Nagel, director Fred Niblo and producer Fred Beetson – began talking about creating an organized group to benefit the entire film industry. They planned another dinner for the following week, with invitees from all the creative branches of the film industry.
And so, on January 11, 1927, 36 people met for dinner at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles to hear a proposal to found the International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (“International” dropped from the name soon after). Attendees included many of the biggest names in the industry at the time: Mayer, Mary Pickford, Sid Grauman, Jesse Lasky, George Cohen, Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks, Cedric Gibbons and Irving Thalberg. The group supported the concept and things came together quickly. By mid-March of that year, articles of incorporation were presented and the first officers were elected, with Douglas Fairbanks as president.
On May 11, 1927, a week after the state granted the Academy a charter as a non-profit organization, an official organizational banquet was held at the Biltmore Hotel. Of the 300 guests, 230 joined the Academy, paying $100 each. That night, the Academy also awarded its first honorary membership, to Thomas Edison. Initially five branches were established: producers, actors, directors, writers and technicians.
The Academy rented a suite of offices at 6912 Hollywood Boulevard as temporary headquarters for the first few months. In November 1927, headquarters moved to office space on the mezzanine level of the Roosevelt Hotel at 7010 Hollywood Boulevard. By April 1929 the Academy had installed screening facilities in the Roosevelt's Club Lounge, equipping the space with Vitaphone, Movietone and other sound systems, which set the stage for the Academy to host advance screenings of not-yet-released motion pictures (held mainly for key opinion-makers of the day, including church and educational leaders).
In June 1930, the Academy rented a suite of offices at 7046 Hollywood Boulevard to give more space for the increased staff of four executives, three assistants and six clerks. The Academy's operations remained at that location until 1935, when the accounting and executive offices moved to the Taft Building on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, and the library was relocated to 1455 North Gordon Street.
The Birth of the Academy Awards
One of the first Academy committees was Awards of Merit. The seven-person committee suggested to the Board in 1928 that awards be presented in 12 categories. The first Academy Awards were officially presented at a black-tie dinner at the Roosevelt on May 16, 1929, honoring achievements between August 1, 1927 and July 31, 1928. More on the history of the Academy Awards
The Academy published its first book in 1928 – Report on Incandescent Illumination, based on a series of Academy-sponsored seminars attended by 150 cinematographers. A second book, Recording Sound for Motion Pictures, was published in 1931, based on a lecture series on sound techniques.
In 1930 the Academy developed a program to train Signal Corps. officers in the various aspects of motion picture production for the purpose of producing military training films. Years later at the start of World War II, the Academy's Research Council arranged for major studios to produce training films on a non-profit basis. Over 400 training shorts and related featurettes were delivered to the armed services.
A new Academy publication, the Screen Achievement Records Bulletin, debuted in 1934 when the Writers Branch began publishing a bulletin of screen authorship records. It listed film production titles and complete credits for directors and writers.
In the late 1920s and the 1930s the Academy was active in industry politics and labor-management issues, with mixed results. In 1937, during Frank Capra's time as president, the Academy rewrote its bylaws and moved further away from involvement in labor-management arbitrations and negotiations.
In 1937 the Academy Players Directory was published. It included photos of actors and the name of their agent or industry contact. The directory was published by the Academy until 2006, when it was sold to a private concern.
By 1938 the Academy's Research Council, a forerunner of today's Science and Technology Council, had 36 technical committees working to address issues related to sound recording and reproduction, projection, lighting, film preservation and cinematography.
By 1941, the Academy library had gained acclaim for having one of the most complete motion picture-related collections in the world.
In 1946 the Academy purchased the Marquis Theater building at 9038 Melrose Avenue as its new headquarters. The building had a 950-seat theater (the site of the 1948 Academy Awards) and space for staff offices and the ever-growing library holdings.
A scholarship program for film students was established in the mid 1960s; starting in 1968, grants were awarded to film-related organizations and colleges for internships, film festivals and other projects. In 1972, the Academy began the National Film Information Service to offer access to library materials for historians, students and others outside Los Angeles. A year later, the Student Academy Awards Committee was established to recognize and encourage promising college and university filmmakers.
Several named public lecture programs were developed, beginning with the Marvin Borowsky Lecture, which was established in 1974 in honor of the late screenwriter and university professor. Over the years, five more lecture series have been added, in the names of Marc Davis, John Huston, Jack Oakie, George Pal and George Stevens, and each having a focus related to its namesake. Guest speakers for the various lectures have run the gamut from Jerry Lewis to Carl Sagan.
During the 1960s it had become clear that more space was needed for the growing slate of departments, programs and services, including the extensive library holdings. Construction got underway in 1973, and the Academy dedicated its new headquarters at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills on December 8, 1975. More on the Academy headquarters
The Visiting Artists Program was established in 1970, and Academy members began traveling throughout the U.S. to give presentations on filmmaking topics. In the 1970s and '80s the Academy's scope of public programming expanded greatly to make full use of the new Wilshire headquarters' state-of-the-art theater and large lobby. A series called Film Classics Revisited launched in the 1980s. It featured a new component: post-screening discussions with each film's cast and crew. The format was a great success, and became the norm for hundreds of film screenings in the decades that followed.
There were also many tributes to screen legends, from Groucho Marx to Tennessee Williams to Mickey Mouse, as well as numerous exhibitions presented in the main lobby. Special events in the late 80s and the 1990s saluted the lives and careers of Irving Berlin, Marlene Dietrich, Buster Keaton and others. Public events grew more expansive each year, with a wider range of film screenings and exhibitions, and new seminars on specific aspects of filmmaking.
During the 1980s and '90s, several new programs were developed, including the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. The first fellowships were awarded in 1986; in 1989 the competition was expanded to include writers across the U.S. and the number of entries jumped to 1,400. It quickly grew into a prestigious international screenwriting competition.
A Film Festival Grants Program began in 1999, and the Academy Film Scholars Program was launched the next year, with two $25,000 grants awarded annually since then to support the creation of new works of film scholarship by established scholars, writers, historians and researchers.
In 2003, the Academy Board of Governors created the Science and Technology Council, which served to reestablish the Academy's role as an industry-wide center for motion picture technology initiatives.
Centers for Motion Picture Study
From 1976 to 1990, all the Academy's departments and functions were housed in the Wilshire building. But the holdings of the library and film archive continued to grow, and in 1990 both were moved to a new location – a 40,000 square-foot building at the corner of La Cienega and Olympic boulevards that had once housed a Beverly Hills water treatment facility. The building was officially dedicated in January 1991. Then in 2002, it was renamed the Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study in honor of the Academy's first president.
Later in 2002 the Academy dedicated another facility, the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study at 1313 Vine Street in Hollywood, and the film archive moved there. The complex had been built in the 1940s as the Don Lee-Mutual Broadcasting building, and several sound stages were gradually converted into climate-controlled vaults to house most of the archive's holdings. The Center now houses the Science and Technology Council and other departments as well as the archive, and has a 286-seat theater.
In 2006, the Academy announced plans for a museum devoted to motion pictures, to be located in Hollywood next to the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study. More on the Academy Museum Project
Presidents of the Academy
1927–1929: Douglas Fairbanks
1929–1931: William C. DeMille
1931–1932: M. C. Levee
1932–1933: Conrad Nagel
1933–1934: J. Theodore Reed
1934–1935: Frank Lloyd
1935–1939: Frank Capra
1939–1941: Walter Wanger
1941: Bette Davis (resigned after two months)
1941–1945: Walter Wanger
1945–1949: Jean Hersholt
1949–1955: Charles Brackett
1955–1958: George Seaton
1958–1959: George Stevens
1959–1960: B. B. Kahane (died)
1960–1961: Valentine Davies (died)
1961–1963: Wendell Corey
1963–1967: Arthur Freed
1967–1970: Gregory Peck
1970–1973: Daniel Taradash
1973–1977: Walter Mirisch
1977–1979: Howard W. Koch
1979–1983: Fay Kanin
1983–1985: Gene Allen
1985–1988: Robert Wise
1988–1989: Richard Kahn
1989–1992: Karl Malden
1992–1993: Robert Rehme
1993–1997: Arthur Hiller
1997–2001: Robert Rehme
2001–2005: Frank R. Pierson
2005–2009: Sid Ganis
2009–2012: Tom Sherak
2012–2013: Hawk Koch
2013–Present: Cheryl Boone Isaacs