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The Academy During Wartime

Cover of the program for the 16th Academy Awards, held March 2, 1944 at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
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The War Film Library was just one of the ways the Academy contributed to the victory effort during World War II. In 1940, the Academy Research Council, chaired by Darryl Zanuck, was designated to work with the War Department to coordinate the production of training films at the Hollywood studios. Under the auspices of the Research Council, the studios worked with Signal Corps officers and technical advisers to produce hundreds of training films for the U.S. Army. Most of the costs were absorbed by the studios, and many filmmaking personnel donated their services. By 1942, over 300 films had been delivered to the War Department and were being shown to members of the armed forces.

The Research Council also organized a series of schools on motion picture and still photography in order to train and qualify cameramen for Signal Corps service. The instruction was done by industry professionals who volunteered their time. By May 1943, nearly 400 men had graduated from the Motion Picture and Still Photographic School. The Research Council also set up a special committee to examine and recommend men for officer and enlisted positions in the Army Signal Corps.


Barry Fitzgerald discovered that the plaster Oscar statuettes presented during the war were not very sturdy.

The Academy's Research Library also made an important contribution by collecting and organizing newspaper and trade publication clippings documenting the effects of the war on the film industry. Begun on December 8, 1941, the clipping collection included information on all aspects of the motion picture industry's efforts, from bond tours and conservation to training films and the Hollywood Canteen. This collection of clippings is still part of the holdings of the Margaret Herrick Library.

The war also had an effect on the annual Academy Awards. The presentations were scaled back and included many references to the film industry's war efforts. At the 1942 Awards, a large banner behind the podium displayed the number of people from across the motion picture industry (27,677) who were then serving in uniform. For the 1943 Awards, the ceremony was held for the first time in a theater. Many servicemen and women were invited to attend, and the proceedings were broadcast to combat zones via the Armed Forces Radio Service.

From 1943 to 1945, due to wartime shortages, Oscar winners received statuettes made from plaster rather than metal, but were allowed to exchange them after the war. One of the lasting changes was the introduction of a category to recognize documentary filmmaking, which was playing such an important role in the war. At the 1941 Awards "Churchill's Island" became the first of the wartime documentaries to be honored by the Academy. Others included "The Battle of Midway" (1942), "Prelude to War" (1942), "Desert Victory" (1943), and "The Fighting Lady" (1944).

The Academy's small staff was also greatly affected by the events of the war. Donald Gledhill, the longtime Executive Secretary, joined the Army Signal Corps, and was called into service in January 1943. His wife, Margaret Gledhill, the Academy's librarian, stepped in to act as Executive Secretary in his absence. At the end of the war, the Academy chose to make the appointment permanent, and Margaret Gledhill (later Herrick) went on to serve in that capacity until her retirement in 1971.

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