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When Oscar Was Young

The 89th Academy Awards presentation for Best Actor and Best Actress will take place on February 26, 2017. Even though it will be the 89th presentation of the awards, the history of the awards actually incorporates 90 years of movie performances. The first awards presentation in 1929 included movies from both 1927 and 1928, the transition years from silent movies to the “talkies”. To contribute to the anticipation for this year’s awards, I thought it would be fun to weigh in on who was the Actor and Actress of the Decade for each 10 years of Academy Award recognized performances.

This article will look at Award winners for movies released from 1927 to 1936. Of the nine decades of movie performances I’ll be looking at over the coming months, this is the decade most of us are going to be least familiar with. It is also the decade that will have the least data to analyze. There is enough, though, to make a call on the Best Actor and Actress for the decade.

The scale I’m using to rank the nominees is a simple one. A Leading Actor or Actress Academy Award win is worth 6 points, while a nomination without a win is 3 points. A Supporting Actor or Actress win is worth 2 points, while a nomination without a win is 1 point. The points are then added up for the decade to determine a winner. Here are the results for the Actors:

Top Actors of the Decade
1927 to 1936
Actor Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actor Noms. Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Noms. Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Paul Muni 1929 4 1 0 0 15
George Arliss 1929 2 1 0 0 9
Wallace Beery 1927 2 1 0 0 9
Clark Gable 1931 2 1 0 0 9
Charles Laughton 1929 2 1 0 0 9
Fredric March 1929 2 1 0 0 9

Paul Muni is the clear cut winner with twice as many nominations as any of the other actors. Many of you are probably asking, “Who is Paul Muni?” He was clearly the dominant actor of this period. From 1934 to 1938, he was nominated for Best Actor every year except 1935. He is one of two Actors (James Dean was the other.) to be nominated for Best Actor for both his first movie, released in 1929, and his last movie, released in 1959. According to IMDB his trademark was his ability to completely transform into a role, changing both his voice and his appearance. His most well known movie from this decade is Scarface, which has an average rating on IMDB of 7.8 based on 19,849 votes.

As for the Best Actress of the decade, the results are also dominated by one actress.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1927 to 1936
Actress Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actress Noms. Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Noms. Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Norma Shearer 1927 5 1 0 0 18
Claudette Colbert 1927 2 1 0 0 9
Bette Davis 1931 2 1 0 0 9
Marie Dressler 1927 2 1 0 0 9
Katharine Hepburn 1932 2 1 0 0 9

Although she was known as “The first Lady of MGM” and “Queen Norma” to her contemporaries, Norma Shearer is not well recognized by today’s audiences. She would have been more well known today if it weren’t for the fact that Norma, a former beauty queen, was cross-eyed. You see, David O. Selznick offered here the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind. The result was a public outcry that she wasn’t right for the role primarily because she was cross-eyed. Shearer ended up turning down the role.

Before leaving this decade, I want to just mention a couple of note worthy items. The Academy didn’t recognize supporting actor and actresses until 1937. So, only the last year of this first decade would have had movies with performances recognized for Best Supporting Awards. Also, this decade introduced the public to three stars who would go on to become icons in the industry. Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis.


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