The Way the Academy Awards Were

In Depth

While it’s hard to imagine the Academy Awards without the mani cam (RIP) or elaborately produced dance numbers starring Neil Patrick Harris, it’s true that for decades, the Oscars as we know them now were a decidedly more low-key affair. But thanks to old footage that they Academy periodically puts on their YouTube channel, we can yearn for the simpler times.

For instance, as seen at the 12th Oscars in 1940, the show was once less of a spectacle and more of a talent show performed in a church basement.

Even when things got a little fancier, they basically just set a camera up facing the stage and let it rip. Audience reaction shots were at first nonexistent, and then limited. Presenters announcing the awards read off some sort of screen immediately in front of them.

The closest they got to red carpet coverage was watching a few hot couples walk in with some brief interviews. (This intro is great; look out for Jane Fonda, Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews, among others, in the audience at the start of the show.)

Not that long ago it was considered appropriate to be completely stone-faced while waiting to see if you were honored with an award. No placid, Reese Witherspoon-esque chill smiles on these women, who look like they’d cut each other to get their hands on that little gold man.

They used to do totally bizarre things, too—like in 1987, when they had dancers wear the work of the designers who were nominated for Best Costume Design as part of some musical number.

Set to appropriate music of the film…

Here is just an amazing clip of Angela Lansbury, Joan Collins and Dana Wynter performing a little song in 1959 about how hard it is to not be nominated or win an award, which feels pretty before its time. Most of the actresses they cut to (Shirley MaClaine, Rosalind Russell) are not pleased.

Oh, and Fred Astaire dancing because why the hell not.

Amazing fashion, however, knows no decade.

Top Image via Hulton Archive/Getty of Elizabeth Taylor laughing over being upstaged by a streaker during the 1974 Oscars. Please enjoy this clip, in which a man named Rick Carter says, “I remember when that happened, when streaking was a part of our world and you actually had to worry that somebody might come through your world suddenly naked.”

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