The Show Made to Control Hollywood: A Brief History of the Academy Awards

PHOTO: A cameraman and a sound technician record the roar of Leo the Lion for MGMs famous movie logo.PlayJohn Kobal Foundation/Getty Images
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This year’s Oscars mark the 88th time Hollywood’s biggest stars have come together for the prestigious awards show. But if these stars knew their history, they might think twice about attending a show created to manipulate filmmakers.

Louis B. Mayer, who died in 1957 at the age of 73, was a prominent studio executive who co-founded MGM studios and created the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy, according to Mayer himself, was founded largely to combat unionization, while the awards show itself was seen as a way of controlling Hollywood.

"I found that the best way to handle them was to hang medals all over them,” said Mayer, according to Scott Eyman's biography, "Lion of Hollywood."

"If I got them cups and awards they’d kill themselves to produce what I wanted," Mayer added. "That’s why the Academy Award was created."

With the Academy, Mayer sought to bring the five branches of the film industry under his control: actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers. He hoped the organization would also help with labor disputes without having to involve unions.

By May 16, 1929, Mayer was ready for the first show. He packed 270 guests into the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel for a dinner. There was no radio or television broadcast and tickets cost just $5. Also, everyone already knew who won.

Since then, the Oscars have grown to become one of the premier events of the year.

The show was first broadcast on TV in 1953, drawing an estimated 40 million viewers. By 1998, 55 million people tuned in to watch, and by 2007, the ad price had skyrocketed to $1.6 million -- all thanks to one guy that just wanted a bit more power over the silver screen.

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