When Oscar Was Young

The 89th Academy Awards presentation for Best Actor and Best Actress will take place on February 26, 2017. Even though it will be the 89th presentation of awards, the history of the awards actually incorporates 90 years of movie performances. The first awards presentation in 1929 included movies from both 1927 and 1928. To contribute to the anticipation for this year’s awards, I thought it would be fun to weigh in on who was the Actor and Actress of the Decade for each 10 years of Academy Award recognized stars.

The 89th Academy Awards presentation for Best Actor and Best Actress will take place on February 26, 2017. Even though it will be the 89th presentation of the awards, the history of the awards actually incorporates 90 years of movie performances. The first awards presentation in 1929 included movies from both 1927 and 1928, the transition years from silent movies to the “talkies”. To contribute to the anticipation for this year’s awards, I thought it would be fun to weigh in on who was the Actor and Actress of the Decade for each 10 years of Academy Award recognized performances.

This article will look at Award winners for movies released from 1927 to 1936. Of the nine decades of movie performances I’ll be looking at over the coming months, this is the decade most of us are going to be least familiar with. It is also the decade that will have the least data to analyze. There is enough, though, to make a call on the Best Actor and Actress for the decade.

The scale I’m using to rank the nominees is a simple one. A Leading Actor or Actress Academy Award win is worth 6 points, while a nomination without a win is 3 points. A Supporting Actor or Actress win is worth 2 points, while a nomination without a win is 1 point. The points are then added up for the decade to determine a winner. Here are the results for the Actors:

Top Actors of the Decade
1927 to 1936
Actor Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actor Noms. Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Noms. Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Paul Muni 1929 4 1 0 0 15
George Arliss 1929 2 1 0 0 9
Wallace Beery 1927 2 1 0 0 9
Clark Gable 1931 2 1 0 0 9
Charles Laughton 1929 2 1 0 0 9
Fredric March 1929 2 1 0 0 9

Paul Muni is the clear cut winner with twice as many nominations as any of the other actors. Many of you are probably asking, “Who is Paul Muni?” He was clearly the dominant actor of this period. From 1934 to 1938, he was nominated for Best Actor every year except 1935. He is one of two Actors (James Dean was the other.) to be nominated for Best Actor for both his first movie, released in 1929, and his last movie, released in 1959. According to IMDB his trademark was his ability to completely transform into a role, changing both his voice and his appearance. His most well known movie from this decade is Scarface, which has an average rating on IMDB of 7.8 based on 19,849 votes.

As for the Best Actress of the decade, the results are also dominated by one actress.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1927 to 1936
Actress Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actress Noms. Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Noms. Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Norma Shearer 1927 5 1 0 0 18
Claudette Colbert 1927 2 1 0 0 9
Bette Davis 1931 2 1 0 0 9
Marie Dressler 1927 2 1 0 0 9
Katharine Hepburn 1932 2 1 0 0 9

Although she was known as “The first Lady of MGM” and “Queen Norma” to her contemporaries, Norma Shearer is not well recognized by today’s audiences. She would have been more well known today if it weren’t for the fact that Norma, a former beauty queen, was cross-eyed. You see, David O. Selznick offered here the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind. The result was a public outcry that she wasn’t right for the role primarily because she was cross-eyed. Shearer ended up turning down the role.

Before leaving this decade, I want to just mention a couple of note worthy items. The Academy didn’t recognize supporting actor and actresses until 1937. So, only the last year of this first decade would have had movies with performances recognized for Best Supporting Awards. Also, this decade introduced the public to three stars who would go on to become icons in the industry. Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis.

IMDB Can Be a Trivial Pursuit

Recently I watched Lethal Weapon 2 for the second time. After rating a movie, I like to read a critic’s review, oftentimes a Roger Ebert review, and click on the trivia link on the IMDB sidebar. The trivia link is a good way to gather some behind the scenes information about the movie.

Recently I watched Lethal Weapon 2 for the second time. After rating a movie, I like to read a critic’s review, a Roger Ebert review if available, and click on the trivia link on the IMDB sidebar. The trivia link is a good way to gather some behind the scenes information about the movie. From the Lethal Weapon 2 trivia link, I learned that Shane Black’s original screenplay was darker and resulted in Martin Riggs’ (Mel Gibson) death at the end of the movie. Both Warner Bros. and Richard Donner, the Director, refused to kill off Riggs which would have meant the end of the profitable franchise. Shane Black, however, refused to change the script and left the project. He went on to screen write Iron Man 3 and is working on the remake of The Predator scheduled to be released in 2018. The Lethal Weapon franchise went on to produce Lethal Weapon 3 & 4, which took in a combined worldwide box office of close to $600,000,000. It isn’t the first time, or the last time, that the art of making movies lost out to the business of making movies.

Here is some additional trivia from some of your movie favorites:

  • The Shawshank Redemption, which is the number one movie on IMDB’s Top 250 Movies list, took in only a very modest theater box office of $28,ooo,ooo before becoming one of the all time leaders in the video rental market.
  • Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro are the only actors ever to win Academy Awards playing the same character (Vito Corleone) in two different movies (The Godfather, The Godfather Part II)
  • Christopher Lee, who played Saruman in the Lord of the Rings trilogy read the Lord of the Rings books every year from the year they were published in 1954 until the year he died in 2015.
  • In the Star Wars movies, Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) had to stand on a box for many of her scenes with Harrison Ford (Han Solo) because he was 6’1” tall and she was only 5’1″.
  • For the movie Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks agreed to not take a salary to help control the production costs of the movie. Instead he agreed to percentage points which netted him $40,000,000.
  • When the Wachowskis were pitching The Matrix to Warner, they proposed a budget of $80,000,000. Warner would only agree to a budget of $10,000,000. The Wachowskis spent all $10,000,000 on the 10 minute opening scene with Carrie-Anne Moss and went back to Warner and showed them the first ten minutes. Based on those 10 minutes, Warner approved the entire $80,000,000 budget.
  • In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, the script required George Bailey’s future wife, Mary Hatch played by Donna Reed, to break a window by throwing a rock through the window. Director Frank Capra hired a marksman to shoot out the window on cue. To everyone’s surprise, Donna Reed threw the rock through the window on the first take. Capra didn’t realize that Donna Reed was an accomplished baseball player in high school with a strong arm.
  • For Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg cast Matt Damon as Private Ryan because of his All-American looks and more importantly because he was a relatively unknown actor. A few months before the movie opened in July 1998, Spielberg’s unknown actor won an Academy Award for Good Will Hunting and became an overnight A-List actor.
  • The iconic scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the flamboyant swordsmen starts whipping around his sword and Indiana Jones pulls out his gun and shoots him, wasn’t in the script. Harrison Ford was supposed to knock the sword out of the swordsmen’s hand with his whip. Because a virus had infected Ford and much of the crew, they were having trouble executing the stunt. Finally Harrison Ford suggested “shooting the sucker”. The result was a scene that is ingrained in the memories of film fans ever since.

If you’ve had some fun with these trivial movie facts, visit IMDB and try out the trivia link for your favorite movies. Or, you can just wait for the next time that we play Trivial Pursuit with IMDB on this site.