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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 March, 2003, 19:10 GMT
From Chaplin to Kidman

By Peter Bowes
In Hollywood

Statuettes outside the Kodak Theatre
The ceremony is now polished and grand

Peter Bowes in Hollywood goes back in time and finds the early Oscars ceremonies unrecognisable from those of the new century.

The first Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1929 at the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

On Sunday 23 March, the 75th Oscars show will take place across the street, on Hollywood Boulevard, at the purpose built Kodak Theatre.

There have been many changes over the decades - from venues and voting procedures to dress sense and day of the week.

The tradition started in the days of silent movies when Charlie Chaplin was the world's equivalent of Tom Hanks.

A lot of the glamour and luxury of the whole thing has gone out of the window because there aren't that many glamorous stars left - it looks more like a circus than a parade of royalty
James Parish, celebrity expert and Hollywood historian

The Motion Picture Academy was established in 1927, two years before the first Oscars ceremony.

"The founders... would really be shocked to see this show in front of thousands of people and an audience of billions, televised in colour, in stereo, in high definition, with all the hoopla," says Gill Cates, producer of the Oscars show.

Bruce Davis, the Academy's chief executive adds: "Probably there would be a certain amount of surprise that it was still going on - that it had worked that well."

During the early years, the Oscars winners' names were revealed to the press months before the statuettes were officially presented to the actors.

"You didn't have that whole experience now, which I think is essential to the experience, of finding it out the same moment the winner finds out," says Mr Davis.

Initially the ceremony was broadcast on radio. The first televised show, in 1952, marked the event's 25th anniversary.

Thank-you speech

As the telecast grew in importance, it began to resemble a variety show in its own right - a far cry from the cosy dinner held in the early days to honour the winners.

The pressure - and glamour - of live television changed the tone of the show.

Actress Halle Berry
Halle Berry made a memorable speech in 2002

The winners soon realised they had a platform from which they could address the world.

It was only a matter of time before their acceptance speeches would become peppered with endless thank yous.

Much to the irritation of the show's producers, the practice is alive and well today.

"I blame it all on Ed Begley, Sr. He thanked his agent," says academy president, Frank Pierson.

Begley won his Oscar for a supporting role in the 1962 film, Sweet Bird of Youth. His acceptance speech caused much hilarity in the audience.

"There was a huge laugh because nobody had ever thought of thanking an agent for anything, you know, until then," adds Mr Pierson.

Today, agents, managers, lawyer, doctors - even publicists - get to bask in a split second of reflected glory - if their name is mentioned by a boss overcome with gratitude.

'Stupid presentation'

The academy's top brass may frown on the rambling speeches, but for many people they are the highlight of the show.

Celebrity expert and Hollywood historian James Parish objects to the "stupid" practice of telling the winners to keep their acceptance speeches short.

"Sometimes they cut off a very important veteran personality right in the middle of his talk - something that maybe he's worked 50 years to win. I think that's disgraceful activity," Mr Parish adds.

Mr Parish, author of Hollywood Divas and Hollywood Bad Boys, believes TV viewers are most interested in seeing the stars respond to their win.

"Yet they'll waste part of the show with some stupid presentation of some dance - there's no logic to it," he says.

Cameron Diaz on the red carpet
Industry watchers can pick up a lot of information from red carpet behaviour

As the show has grown, so have peripheral events like the red carpet fashion parade and the after-parties that go on well into the night - although that will be heavily toned down for the 2003 ceremony.

"For a lot of us who study the industry, watching the pre-show is mostly for picking up titbits of what the celebrities accidentally will reveal about themselves just walking by the camera," says Mr Parish.

But, he believes today's Oscar events pale in comparison with the golden age of Hollywood.

"A lot of the glamour and luxury of the whole thing has gone out of the window because there aren't that many glamorous stars left.

"It looks more like a circus than a parade of royalty," he says.

The fact remains that the Oscars get bigger every year. Media interest is insatiable and Hollywood celebrities, glamorous or not, lap up the attention.

"The true heart of the Academy Awards is still celebrating excellence in film and to the degree that we're honest to that, I think the show will go on for another 175 years," says Mr Cates.


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