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Who Invented the Oscars?

HollywoodNews.com: The founders of the now infamous Academy were a motley crew as individuals, but when they first converged in Hollywood, then just a small town with dirt roads, sparks flew and fueled a common dream: to bring artistic validity to their beloved new medium.

Today, movies are so ingrained in our culture it is hard to imagine a time when former cowpunchers, prospectors, vaudevillians, even junk dealers made up the rules as they went along. Prohibition and the Great Depression were keeping everyone on edge, and the business was rife with murders and drug scandals. Something had to happen. And so on January 11th, 1927, thirty-six members of Hollywood’s elite and not-so-elite came together at the behest of MGM chief Louis B. Mayer. From Cecil B. DeMille to Mary Pickford, Harry M. Warner, who owned a bike shop before launching the revolutionary “talkie” The Jazz Singer, even Joseph M. Schenk, freed from jail just in time to discover Marilyn Monroe – each guest was more colorful than the last. Although they didn’t know it yet, these thirty-six achievers and dreamers gave birth to a golden child.

Who were these movers and shakers who would change movies forever? And what about Oscar, their famous son? He is fast approaching his 100th birthday, and is still the undisputed king of Hollywood. Yet with such dynamic parents, what else could we expect?

In Debra Pawlak’s new book, Bringing Up Oscar, readers will learn, as Pawlak tells USA TODAY in an interview, all about these 36 founders. “They were from all walks of life, but in 1927, these were all people who were at the top of their game in Hollywood,” Pawlak says. And what was their motivation? “Movies were getting bad press. Temperance groups had succeeded in outlawing alcohol, so they turned their attention to Hollywood. There was no place in the industry where people could come with their disputes, and people in the industry needed to support one another,” Pawlak continues in the interview. The Wall Street Journal explains further that “to a great extent, the formation of the Academy was an act of aspirational pride. Within little more than 20 years, the American movie itself had morphed from a parlor amusement into an art form of subtlety, grace and astonishing commercial success. The Academy’s founders wanted recognition for their life’s work, and they knew they wouldn’t get it from New York, whose theatrical and literary hierarchies would never admit that the movies had achieved a standing equivalent to that of the older arts.”

Critics, newspapers and industry insiders have all welcomed Pawlak’s efforts and bringing the life stories of these great figures in film history to the forefront for a new generation of readers. Michael Deeley, the Academy Award-winning producer of The Deer Hunter and the author of Blade Runners, Deer Hunters, and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off says that Pawlak’s book is “a thoroughly researched and very entertaining portrait of the men and women whose energy and talent created today’s world-wide American film industry.” Booklist has called Bringing Up Oscar a “fascinating account” and Publishers Weekly raved that “by skillfully weaving [these] highlights of Hollywood history throughout this Tinseltown tapestry, Pawlak succeeds in recreating that colorful era when flickers turned into features and silents converted to sound.”


Debra Ann Pawlak has spent over ten years writing about Hollywood history. She is the author of Farmington and Farmington Hills, for Arcadia’s “Making of America” series, and has written a screenplay about Clara Bow. She lives in southeastern Michigan and is available for interviews at any time.

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