By Ann Silverthorn
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did not make a distinction in the voting process between sound and silent in 1930, but all the awards that year went to movies with sound. At the end of the decade, Technicolor would begin to replace black and white film. Not until the introduction of CGI (computer-generated imagery) and digital distribution would there develop such dramatic strides in movie-making.
In many ways, the 1930s was one of the best decades in film, even with the economic challenges of the time. The world was in the grips of the Great Depression, and Hollywood was hit hard; but for the weary public, movies provided a cheap form of entertainment and escape. They were great babysitters, too, and many parents plopped a quarter in their kids’ palms and sent them off to spend their entire Saturdays in darkened cinemas.
It was in the 1930s that the moniker “Oscar” became associated with the Academy Awards. There are conflicting claims about when and how this nickname originated, but on March 16, 1934, gossip columnist Sidney Skolsky wrote in the New York Daily News, “To the profession these statues are called Oscars.” The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences refers to this as the first newspaper reference to the term, but future director of the Academy, Margaret Herrick, reportedly remarked that the statue looked like her Uncle Oscar in 1931. By 1939, the Academy made the name official and in 2013, it rebranded the entire celebration as simply: the Oscars.
The 1930s marked the first full decade of Academy Awards, and there were many films, actors, and other film industry professionals to consider pulling out as notable Academy Award Winners of the 1930s. Here are a few that stand out the most….
War films were still popular in the early 1930s, and although it would become known as “The Forgotten War,” World War I still held great interest for the movie-going public. All Quiet on the Western Front allowed Americans to view the war through the eyes of a young German soldier. The film was based on a novel by German author Erich Maria Remarque, who served in the war. It received four nominations for the 1931 Academy Awards in Writing, Cinematography, Directing, and Outstanding Production. It won in the latter two categories, and the Outstanding Production category is actually the Best Picture category today.
On a lighter note, at the 1935 Academy Awards, a special award was given to Shirley Temple, who was only seven years old at the time but had already appeared in two dozen shorts and feature films. You can find more than two dozen of her films available on DVD Netflix. Although Shirley Temple was a film legend, she never won a Best Actress Academy Award.
It Happened One Night was the big winner at the 1935 Academy Awards. It won for best picture, but the actors who played the two leading roles, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, also took home the top awards. Frank Capra won for his directing of the movie. Colbert plays an heiress on the run and Gable is an unemployed reporter who wants exclusive rights to her story and winds up getting romantically involved.
In 1936, Clark Gable was again nominated for best actor. He didn’t win an Oscar that year, but the film he starred in, Mutiny on the Bounty did. In addition to taking Best Picture, Mutiny was nominated for Best Screenplay, Directing, Editing, and Music. Based on a historical event involving the British Royal Army, which didn’t allow mustaches at the time, Clark Gable shaved off his signature bristles just for his role as the mutiny leader.
Other notable Best Actor or Best Actress winners in the 1930s included America’s sweetheart Mary Pickford (1930 - Coquette), Helen Hayes (1933 - The Sin of Madelon Claudet), Katherine Hepburn (1934 - Morning Glory), Bette Davis (1936 - Dangerous), and Spencer Tracy (1938 - Captains Courageous and 1939 - Boys Town).
The most notable movie to receive an Academy Awards in the 1930s was one whose title will be recognized by nearly everyone today. A special award was given to A Star Is Born in 1938. This first version of the tragic love story also won an Oscar for best original writing. Janet Gaynor and Fredric March received best actor/actress nominations, and the film also won nominations for best assistant director, outstanding direction, and screenplay. This was the first of the four versions, including the 2018 remake of A Star Is Born starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.