On May 16, 1929, the first Academy Awards ceremony was held in the Blossom Ballroom at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel honoring films released in 1927 and 1928.
Some of the winners from this star-studded event were: Outstanding Picture - “Wings”; Best Director Comedy - Lewis Milestone, “Arabian Nights”; Best Director Dramatic - Frank Borage, “7th Heaven”; Best Actor - Emil Jennings, “The Last Command” and “The Way of All Flesh”; Best Actress - Janet Gaynor, “7th Heaven”, “Street Angel” and “Sunrise”. Silent film star, Charlie Chaplin, was honored with a special award for his work as an actor, writer, and director.
The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel certainly had strong ties to the film industry. The hotel was partially financed by Hollywood heavyweights including Louis B. Mayer, Sid Grumman, and Hollywood’s first “power couple”, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.
Opening in 1927, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel was a magnet for the film industry during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Today, the hotel has undergone an extensive renovation to bring back its unique Spanish Colonial style and was declared a cultural landmark by the City of Los Angeles in 1991.
The concept for a non-profit organization to highlight the contributions of Hollywood’s growing film industry came from famed producer, Louis B. Mayer. His rise to fame was as improbable as any Hollywood rags-to-riches film script. Mayer (born Lazar Meier) began his life in severe poverty in the Ukraine. His family fled religious persecution in Russia, and as a young man Mayer was educated in Canada before immigrating to Boston and later becoming an American citizen in 1912. After making a living working in the scrap metal industry, Mayer found his calling in the entertainment industry as a theater owner. In 1918, he moved to Hollywood becoming a legend as a studio producer. Mayer joined Samuel Goldwyn and Marcus Loew to create a new film studio – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Aside from his work as the head of MGM, Mayer was active in Masonry including being a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason.
The first President of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, actor Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., served as Master of Ceremonies at the first Academy Awards gala dinner before a crowd of 270 guests. Fairbanks probably had a much easier job than modern era Academy Award hosts as the event was not broadcast. In addition, there was certainly less tension in the Blossom Ballroom at the Hollywood Roosevelt at this first Academy gala as the winners in each category had been announced months prior to the event. Like many Hollywood stars at the time, Fairbanks was a member of Beverly Hills Masonic Lodge No. 528.