15 Memorable Oscar Firsts

Christopher Polk, Getty Images
Christopher Polk, Getty Images

For more than 90 years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has awarded excellence on the big screen. Over the decades, there have been a lot of "first"s (and some "first and only"s) as the Academy Awards have grown and evolved. Here are 15 of them.

1. First Black Artist To Win An Oscar: Hattie McDaniel

Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind (1939)
Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind (1939)
Warner Home Video

In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to be nominated for an Oscar—then the first African American artist to win an Oscar—when she took home the Best Supporting Actress statuette for her work in Gone with the Wind. Nearly a quarter-century later, in 1964, Sidney Poitier became the first African American to win a Best Actor Academy Award for playing Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field.

2. First Actor To Refuse An Oscar: George C. Scott

A publicity still of actor George C. Scott
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

In 1971, George C. Scott refused both the nomination and eventual win for Best Actor in Patton. Scott sent the Academy a telegram saying that he refused to accept the nomination because he disliked the voting process and felt that competing against his fellow actors was artistically wrong. When his name was announced as the winner, Scott was asleep at home with his family in upstate New York. When asked about refusing the Academy Award a few days after the ceremony, Scott replied that he had "no feeling about it one way or another."

3. First Person To Present Him/Herself With An Oscar: Norma Shearer

circa 1930: Norma Shearer (1900 - 1983), the Canadian born actress who starred in silent films and then talkies such as 'Private Lives'.
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

During the third Academy Awards in 1931, Norma Shearer was the presenter for the Best Actress category. Shearer was nominated for two Oscars in the Best Actress category that year, and she won the award for her role in The Divorcee (which she had to announce, rather awkwardly). It was the last time a nominated actor presented an Oscar for his or her own category.

4. First Color Movie To Win A Best Picture Oscar: Gone With The Wind

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
Warner Home Video

In 1938, A Star Is Born became the first all-color movie to receive a Best Picture nomination. Two years later, Gone with the Wind became the first color movie to win the award. It took a long time for Hollywood to fully embrace the technology; it wasn't until 1956 that all five Best Picture nominees were color movies.

5. First Person Named Oscar To Win An Oscar: Oscar Hammerstein

American librettist Oscar Hammerstein II
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Composer Oscar Hammerstein II was the first person named "Oscar" to win an Oscar. Hammerstein won two Academy Awards throughout his career, one for the song "The Last Time I Saw Paris" from Lady Be Good in 1942 and another for "It Might As Well Be Spring" from State Fair in 1946.

6. First Televised Awards Ceremony: The 25th Academy Awards

October 1961: American movie icon Bob Hope (1903 - 2003) arrives at a social function wearing a jacket and bow tie
Fox Photos/Getty Images

The first Oscar ceremony to be televised was the 25th Academy Awards back in 1953. The event was simulcast in black and white from both the RKO Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, with Bob Hope as host, and the NBC International Theatre, with Fredric March, in New York City.

In 1966, the Academy Awards ceremony was broadcast in color for the first time on ABC.

7. First X-Rated Movie To Win A Best Picture Oscar: Midnight Cowboy

Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight pose in a still from the film 'Midnight Cowboy' June 15, 1968 in the USA
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The first and only X-rated movie to win Best Picture was Midnight Cowboy in 1970. In 1972, A Clockwork Orange was the last X-rated movie to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. In 1990, the MPAA moved away from the "X" rating because of its association with pornographic films and instead introduced the "NC-17" rating for movies with graphic sex and violence.

8. First Sequel To Be Named Best Picture: The Godfather: Part II

Al Pacino in The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Paramount Pictures

In 1975, The Godfather: Part II became the first sequel to win an Oscar for Best Picture, two years after the original won the same award. The Silence of the Lambs and The Return of the King would follow The Godfather: Part II as sequels that also won Best Picture Oscars.

9. First Woman To Win A Best Picture Oscar: Julia Phillips

 The Oscar statuette is displayed on the red carpet during the 88th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 28, 2016 in Hollywood, California
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

In 1974, Julia Phillips accepted the Oscar for Best Picture for The Sting, alongside Tony Bill and her then-husband/producing partner, Michael Phillips. The film's success paved the way for Julia and Michael to make Taxi Driver just two years later; in 1977, they earned another Best Picture nomination for the dark Martin Scorsese classic.

10. First Woman To Be Named Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow

 Director Kathryn Bigelow accepts Best Director award for 'The Hurt Locker' onstage during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on March 7, 2010 in Hollywood, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

In 2010, after 82 years of Academy Awards, Kathryn Bigelow was the first female filmmaker to win the Best Director Oscar. She won for directing The Hurt Locker, which also ended up winning Best Picture.

Only four other women have been nominated for Best Director Oscars: Italian director Lina Wertmüller was nominated for Seven Beauties in 1977, Jane Campion was nominated for The Piano in 1993, Sofia Coppola was nominated for Lost in Translation in 2004, and Greta Gerwig was nominated for Lady Bird in 2018.

11. First Best Picture Nominee To Be Released On Home Video Before The Oscars Ceremony: The Silence Of The Lambs

 Actor Anthony Hopkins accepts the Scream Legend award onstage during Spike TV's 2008 Scream awards held at the Greek Theater on October 18, 2008 in Los Angeles, California
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

The Silence of the Lambs was the first Best Picture nominee to be released on home video (VHS and laserdisc) before the start of the awards ceremony. The movie was released in theaters on February 14, 1991 and on VHS on October 24, about four months before the Oscars telecast in 1992. It was also the first horror film to win Best Picture.

12. First Animated Film To Earn A Best Picture Nomination: Beauty And The Beast

Robby Benson and Paige O'Hara in Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Walt Disney Productions

Although it didn’t win the award, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) was the first animated movie to receive a nomination for Best Picture. Since then, Pixar's Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010) have also received Best Picture nominations. In 2001, the Academy introduced a Best Animated Feature Film category.

13. First Actor To Receive Two Nominations For The Same Role: Barry Fitzgerald

Barry Fitzgerald (1888 - 1966) (left) holds his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor while American actor Bing Crosby (1904 - 1977) holds his Oscar for Best Actor, both for their roles in 'Going My Way,' Academy Awards, Los Angeles, California, March 15, 1945.
Barry Fitzgerald (left) holds his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor while Bing Crosby holds his Oscar for Best Actor, both for their roles in 'Going My Way' (1944).
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1945, Barry Fitzgerald became the first and only actor to ever be nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for the same role, for playing Father Fitzgibbon in Going My Way (he ended up winning the latter). AMPAS later changed the rules and guidelines for acting nominations, so that a double nomination couldn’t happen again.

14. First Actor To Win A Posthumous Award: Peter Finch

August 1958: British actor Peter Finch (1916 - 1977) at Pinewood Studios, for the filming of the Michael McCarthy picture 'Operation Amsterdam
Howell Evans/BIPs/Getty Images

Peter Finch was the first actor to win an Academy Award posthumously. He received the Best Actor Oscar in 1977 for his electrifying performance as TV anchor Howard Beale in Network. Finch died of a heart attack on January 14, 1977, less than three months before the ceremony.

15. First 3D film(s) To Earn Best Picture Nominations: Avatar And Up

Sam Worthington in Avatar (2009)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Though the 3D format has been around since 1915, it took until 2010 for the first stereoscopic film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. And it was a big year for the format, as it wasn't just one 3D film that earned the Oscars' top nod—there were two of them: James Cameron's Avatar and Pete Docter and Bob Peterson's Up (ultimately, both films lost to Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker).

An earlier version of this article ran in 2017.

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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