LOS ANGELES -- It all began on a warm May evening in 1929 when members of the 2-year-old Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gathered in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel for a dinner of jumbo squab and lobster Eugenie.
The first annual Academy Award presentations followed -- all five, unsuspenseful minutes of them.
''There were no surprises, because the awards had been announced three months before,'' Janet Gaynor, the first recipient of the best actress award, remembered 50 years later.
On Sunday, Bob Thomas will mark his 56th year covering the Academy Awards for The Associated Press. Here he traces the history of the awards and his memories of them.
''It was a lovely evening, with all the stars and the producers and directors sweeping around on the dance floor.''
Gaynor received her statuette -- it had not yet been dubbed Oscar -- from Douglas Fairbanks Sr. None of the three nominees for best actor was present. The winner, Emil Jannings, had departed for Germany, where he became a Nazi propagandist for Goebbels.
A portent of the future was sounded that year when Darryl F. Zanuck, production head at Warner Bros., accepted a citation for the first feature film with sound, ''The Jazz Singer.'' 1929 would be the last year of awards for silent movies.
This reporter began covering the awards for The Associated Press in 1945, at Grauman's Chinese Theater, across the street from the Roosevelt.
The awards had moved there the year before and done away with the usual dinner and dancing; the war was at its height, and the Academy decided it would be unseemly for movie stars to appear at a lavish dinner when the rest of America was scrimping.
It's hard to describe the charge of excitement for a 23-year-old cub reporter with a lifelong passion for movies to be assigned to Hollywood's biggest event.
It was the year of ''Going My Way,'' with Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald winning as the younger and older Catholic priests, and Leo McCarey for producing, directing and writing the film.
So many memories since then ...
The long-overlooked Humphrey Bogart getting his due for ''The African Queen''... Jimmy Stewart sobbing as he paid tribute to the absent Gary Cooper; it was the first hint that Cooper was dying... Elizabeth Taylor, back from a near-death illness, winning for ''Butterfield 8,'' a film she hated... The hoots that met Sasheen Littlefeather's rejection of Marlon Brando's Oscar for ''The Godfather''...
Ingrid Bergman's triumphant second Oscar for ''Anastasia,'' after her seven-year purgatory for her ''illicit'' affair with Roberto Rossellini... John Wayne at the end of his life winning his peers' esteem for ''True Grit''... David Niven and the streaker... The huge ovation for Charlie Chaplin, ending his exile to receive an honorary award... The boos that greeted Vanessa Redgrave's diatribe against Israel... Roberto Benigni climbing over chair backs to claim his Oscar....
In the ceremony's early years, usually at the Ambassador or Biltmore hotels, its formality was leavened by the addition of comedians -- Will Rogers, Jack Benny and especially Bob Hope -- as hosts. What a concept!
The beginning of the end of the Oscars as insiders' celebration came in 1947. The awards moved to the Shrine Auditorium, a garish and cavernous hall south of downtown Los Angeles, and the public was allowed to buy tickets. So few did, however, that the empty seats had to be filled by servicemen.
There also was more drama backstage than on. After Olivia de Havilland collected her Oscar for ''To Each His Own,'' her sister, Joan Fontaine, rushed up to congratulate her. De Havilland turned away and commented, ''I don't know why she does that when she knows how I feel.'' The two sisters had not spoken for four years. Friends believed the feud was caused by the outspoken Fontaine's acid comments about her sister's then-husband.
The nadir of the Academy's fortunes was reached in 1949. The major studios, suffering the onslaught of television and the loss of their theaters because of antitrust action, withdrew their financial support of the awards. The ceremony was held in the Academy's own theater, a shabby house on the edge of Beverly Hills, capacity 950 compared to the Shrine's 6,700 the previous year.
The studios relented the next year, and the Academy returned to the bigtime, spending the next 11 years back in Hollywood at the Pantages Theater.
Then in 1953, the Academy Awards ceremony underwent a sea change: television!
The awards had been broadcast on radio since the 1930s, but television had been a no-no. Studio heads feared the upstart medium, and forbade their stars from appearing in it. Living-room scenes in movies contained no hint of a TV set, though millions of American homes had them. Television was the monster that could destroy the film industry; already it had caused thousands of theaters to close.
The first Oscar telecast emanated from the Pantages as well as from a simultaneous ceremony at the Century Theater in New York, where several of the nominees gathered. The NBC show was a ratings success, and changed forever how the awards were presented.
The Academy Awards were no longer solely a celebration of the best achievements in motion pictures. They became an entertainment for millions of viewers at home.
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