INFO: Walt Disney and the Academy Award by Bill Iadonisi

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INFO: Walt Disney and the Academy Award by Bill Iadonisi


Any movie aficionado knows the Academy Awards, or the moniker “Oscars” as those golden statues are often referred to, are the ultimate recognition of excellence and achievements from the movie industry to actors, writers, special effects artists, songwriters and all who bring the magic of the movies to the silver screen. The awards are evaluated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences membership.

The idea of acknowledging the talent and achievements of those in the film industry was conceived by Louis B. Mayer along with 36 actors, writers, producers, directors and technicians in 1927. In reality, it was to be an organization to reign in the labor unions at the studios, a giant public relations operation to let all know that Hollywood was a great place and the movies were made to give all a good time. Mayer and the group liked the scheme, but it needed a name. It had to have history, distinction and class. They settled on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. A banquet was held on January, 1927 where memberships were offered, they were gobbled up, including Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, the only female.

The first ceremony by the new organization was held on May 16th, 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles, California. It gave recognition to the best films of 1927 and 1928. So, with a bit of “Oscar” history out of the way, let’s talk about the man who has received more of its honors than anyone else in the industry…Walter Elias Disney! It is hard to believe, but between the years 1931 and 1968, Walt Disney won 26 Academy Awards and Walt still holds the record for most individual Academy Awards won. This number includes special and technical awards. In addition, Walt also claims the record for the most Academy Award nominations with 59 affirmations. This simple fact that Walt Disney has garnered these accolades is a testament to his genius and ability to extract the very best from his artists, story men and animators.

Of the Academy awards won, 22 of these are competitive Academy Awards and four Honorary Academy Awards. His first competitive and Honorary Award came at the 5th Academy Awards ceremony in 1932. The Honorary Award was for the creation of Mickey Mouse and Academy Award for the best short subject cartoon, Flowers and Trees. In addition to the creation of Mickey, he won in 1939 another honorary award for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which read…, "Recognized as a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field for the motion picture cartoon." It was February 23rd, 1939; Walt Disney was at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. By this time, he had already garnered seven Academy Awards to date.

Snow White at the time was the top-earning film to date. The Academy wanted to honor and give it recognition, but not Best Picture for an animated film. Walt had always stated he made films for the whole family, not just the kids. It was decided that Shirley Temple, the most famous child star of the era, presents the award.

The award was as special as the film. Frank Capra who was the Academy President is credited with the idea of a standard size Oscar statue followed by seven small one, depicting the seven Dwarfs. The presentation of the award was just as special. The exchange between Walt and Shirley was as memorable as the film it honored. Shirley said…”I am sure the boys and girls in the whole world are going to be very happy when they find out that the daddy of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Mickey Mouse, Ferdinand, and all the others is going to get this beautiful statue. Isn’t it bright and shiny?” Walt…”Oh, it’s beautiful” Shirley…”Aren’t you proud Mr. Disney?” Walt…”I’m so proud I think I’ll bust!” The award is on display at the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Another major and important award Walt was presented with was the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. This is another of the Honorary Oscars, previously known as “Special Awards” with are given out by at the discretion of the Board of Governors of the Academy; these honor achievements in filmmaking not falling into the category of any present Academy Awards. They are not awarded every year, but rather when considered appropriate by the Board. The Thalberg is presented to “Creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production”. Irvin Thalberg was the late vice-president and head of the Production Division of MGM. Walt Disney is the youngest person to win this award.

During the presentation of the award, On February 26, 1942, Walt Disney took the stage at the 14th annual Academy Awards at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Walt was so overcome with emotion and he openly wept. During the presentation, producer David Selznick applauded Walt for the classical music used in the timeless film, “Fantasia”. He found it hard to speak, but said simply, “I want to thank everybody here. This is a vote of confidence from the whole industry” Also in 1942, Walt received another Honorary Oscar for the creation of Fantasia, specifically for the film’s contribution to sound innovation. For the film, Walt’s engineers and designers developed a new sound system, known as “Fantasound” that approached the experience of hearing a live orchestra in a symphony hall. The system was the forerunner to today’s Surround Sound, with speakers placed strategically around the sides and back of the theater. Honored along with Walt Disney were Bill Garity, Disney’s film pioneer who helped put sound to the 1928 animated short Steamboat Willie, the first cartoon to feature synchronized sound, producer John Hawkins, and the RCA Manufacturing Company.

Another Oscar historic moment for Walt was in the 1954 Awards Ceremony. Here Walt won the Academy Award in all four categories being nominated… Best Documentary Feature, The Living Desert, Best Documentary, Short Subject, the Alaskan Eskimo, the best Short Subject Cartoon, Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom and the Best Short Subject two-reel, Bear Country. In addition two more works, cartoon “Rugged Bear” and Short Subject, “Ben and Me” were nominations. Additional accolades for “Firsts” at the Awards are the first ever nature documentary Academy Award was bestowed to Walt in 1948 for Seal Island.

In the Awards Ceremony on March 19th, 1953 Walt Disney had a chance to present (In addition to previous two times. 1937, presenter the short subjects awards and in 1943, presenter of the Thalberg award to producer Sidney Franklin) the music awards during the 25th ceremony at the RKO Pantages Theater in Hollywood. Bob Hope was the host and it was the first time the awards were televised. Hope introduced Walt…”You know when we called Walt Disney and asked him to present the music award tonight, we said, “Walt, with all the songs you’ve commissioned for your pictures and what with Fantasia and all, you would be the right man to do it. After all, think about how much you have done for music and Hollywood” Walt Disney replied warmly…”I would have thought it was the other way around” Hope continued…”In any case, Walt fought his way through all the Oscars in his living room to our stage tonight. One of the great theatrical inventors of modern time, Mr. Walt Disney”

The only feature film that Walt produced that was nominated for Best Picture was the classic “Mary Poppins”. In 1964, it garnered 13 nominations and won five, Best Actress, Julie Andrews, best film editing, best original song, best visual effects and best original score. And the final award from the Academy was in 1969 when he was given a posthumous win for the Best Short Subject, cartoon, “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.

Here is a list of Walt’s Academy Awards…


1932-Best Short Subject (Cartoon) Flowers and Trees, 1934-Best Short Subject (Cartoon) The Three Little Pigs, 1935-Best Short Subject (Cartoon)The Tortoise and the Hare, 1936-Best Short Subject (Cartoon), Three Orphan Kittens, 1937-Best Short Subject (Cartoon), The Country Cousin,1938-Best Short Subject (Cartoon), The Old Mill, 1939-Best Short Subject (Cartoon), Ferdinand the Bull, 1940-Best Short Subject (Cartoon), The Ugly Duckling, 1942-Best Short Subject (Cartoon), Lend a Paw, 1943-Best Short Subject (Cartoon), Der Fuehrer's Face, 1949, Best Short Subject (Two-reel),Seal Island, 1951, Best Short Subject (Two-reel), In Beaver Valley, 1952, Best Short Subject (Two-reel), Nature's Half Acre, 1953, Best Short Subject (Two-reel), Water Birds, 1954, Best Documentary (Feature), The Living Desert, Best Documentary (Short Subject), The Alaskan Eskimo, Best Short Subject (Cartoon), Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, Best Short Subject (Two-reel), Bear Country, 1955, Best Documentary (Feature), The Vanishing Prairie, 1956, Best Documentary (Short Subject), Men Against the Arctic, 1959, Best Short Subject (Live Action), Grand Canyon, 1969, Best Short Subject (Cartoon), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, (posthumous). In addition, there are the four honorary awards… 1932, the creation of Mickey Mouse, Statuette, 1939, for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1942, to Walt Disney, William Garity, John N. A. Hawkins and the RCA Manufacturing Company "for their outstanding contribution to the advancement of the use of sound in motion pictures through the production of Fantasia, and the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.

So you can see that Walt was an innovator, storyteller, producer, writer and film maker throughout his long and storied career, and the extensive list of Academy Awards (Oscars) proved that he was the best and brightest in the industry!






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