Contenders for 1939’s Best Picture Oscar included “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Wuthering Heights,” “Stagecoach,” “Of Mice and Men.” And the winner was… “Gone With the Wind.” GWTW won eight awards out of thirteen nominations. Hattie McDaniel was named Best Supporting Actress, the first African-American to win an Oscar. (She was also the first to be nominated.) Judy Garland won the Juvenile Award. No one attending the ceremony in that pre-television era was surprised.
“Gone With the Wind” moviegoers gasped when Rhett Butler delivered his departing remark to Scarlett O’Hara in the final scene. Today, with profanity so prevalent and used as a crutch for lazy writing, we see the shock of seventy-plus years ago as amusing. Maybe we’re coming full circle, with this year’s best-picture winner having dialog with few expletives, surprising considering the story line.
End of digression
Beginning with the 1940 awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences kept the names of winners in sealed envelopes, not to be opened until announced at the ceremony. Previously, the Academy released the list of winners to news organizations prior to the awards banquet, so they would be prepared to publish the results to their waiting readers and listeners. The genteel arrangement ended in 1939 when the Los Angeles Times published the winners’ names prior to the event. The Academy was not happy and from then on kept the list of winners secret. The system heightened suspense and worked well until this year’s fun ending.