Best Picture: West Side Story
West Side Story also won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (George Chakiris), Best Supporting Actress (Rita Moreno), Color Art Direction-Set Decoration (Boris Leven and Victor A. Gangelin), Color Cinematography (Daniel L. Fapp), Color Costume Design (Irene Sharaff), Directing (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins), Film Editing (Thomas Stanford), Music – Scoring of a Musical Picture (Saul Chaplin, Johnny Green, Sid Ramin, and Irwin Kostal), and Sound (Todd-AO Sound Department and Samuel Goldwyn Studio Sound Department).
Sophia Loren was the first performer in a foreign language film to be nominated for an Academy Award. She won for Best Actress (Two Women).
Maximilian Schell won for Best Actor (Judgment at Nuremberg) and became the first performer to win an Academy Award for recreating on screen a role he had originally performed for television.
For the first time, two directors shared the award in the Directing category (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins for West Side Story).
George C. Scott was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for The Hustler, and though he wished to decline the nomination, his name remained on the ballot. (George Chakiris won for West Side Story.)
Bob Hope was the master of ceremonies.
In January 1961, President Kennedy appointed Janet Travell as his personal physician, making her the first woman to hold the position of White House doctor.
In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth.
On April 23, 1961, Judy Garland performed a legendary comeback concert at Carnegie Hall. The performance is often referred to as the greatest night in show business history.
In July 1961, the Major League Baseball All-Star game at Fenway Park in Boston was the first to end in a tie. The game was stopped in the ninth inning due to rain.
In August 1961, construction on the Berlin Wall began, dividing West and East Germany.
On October 1, 1961, Roger Maris of the New York Yankees became the first major league baseball player to hit more than 60 home runs in a single season. Maris hit his 61st home run on the last day of the season, breaking the previous record set by Babe Ruth.
In October 1961, Joseph Heller's first novel, Catch-22, was published.
In November 1961, the Fantastic Four comic debuted.
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award
To George Seaton.
To Fred L. Metzler for his dedication and outstanding service to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
To Jerome Robbins for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.
To William L. Hendricks for his outstanding patriotic service in the conception, writing and production of the Marine Corps film, A Force in Readiness, which has brought honor to the Academy and the motion picture industry.
Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award
To Stanley Kramer