A decade of industry-wide labor struggles and bargaining debates culminated in nine Hollywood studios and five labor unions (carpenters, electricians, musicians, painters, and stagehands) signing the Studio Basic Agreement on 29 November 1926. Slightly over a month later, in January 1927, Louis B. Mayer (1882–1957), head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios, spearheaded an effort to avert further unionization of motion picture workers, especially the major artistic groups not yet organized: writers, directors, and actors. Mayer pressed for a representative umbrella organization when he and three others—Fred Beetson, head of the Association of Motion Picture Producers; Conrad Nagel (1897–1970), Mayer contract actor; and Fred Niblo (1874–1948), MGM director—met on 1 January 1927 to discuss business issues and the possibility of a "mutually beneficial" industry organization (Holden, p. 86). Sound films waited in the wings, conservative groups had strong community support and threatened increasing censorship pressure, and the economics of the business always merited attention and concern.
A second meeting on 11 January led to the initiation of articles of nonprofit incorporation, and on 4 May 1927 California legally established the Academy charter. In its mission statement, published 20 June 1927, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences formed "to improve the artistic quality of the film medium, provide a common forum for the various branches and crafts of the industry, foster cooperation in technical research and cultural progress, and pursue a variety of other stated objectives." On the labor front, the Academy founders' preemptive action achieved only temporary success. The Screen Writers Guild organized on 6 April 1933; the Screen Actors Guild followed suit, with twenty-one actors filing articles of incorporation on 30 June with membership "open to all" as opposed to "by invitation only" ( www.sag.org ); and the Directors Guild of America encouraged an Awards boycott by all the guilds in January 1936, all after continuing labor disputes.
The conferring of "awards of merit for distinctive achievements" appears in the last half of goal five of the Academy's seven original goals. In fact, with the transition to sound under way at full throttle, the Academy did play a significant role in technical innovation and training. But almost as quickly, the Academy Awards ® emerged as public relations jewels for studios and individuals. In July 1928 the Academy first solicited Award nominations in twelve categories for the period from 1 August 1927 through 31 July 1928. The top ten nominees went to judges representing the five Academy branches. Each branch in turn forwarded three names to a centralized board, which then chose and announced the fifteen winners, who received their Awards at an anniversary dinner in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on 16 May 1929. At a cost of $10 each, 250 guests attended the Awards dinner, where Wings took Best Picture; Janet Gaynor (1906–1984) was named Best Actress for three roles: Seventh Heaven , Street Angel , and Sunrise ; and Emil Jannings (1884–1950) was awarded Best Actor for The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh . For the first fifteen years, winners received their Oscars ® at private dinners. By the second Awards ceremonies, on 30 April 1930 (with seven awards bestowed), media coverage began with a live, hour-long, local radio broadcast; the entire ceremony was broadcast the following year, on 3 April 1931 (Levy, All About Oscar ® , p. 29). Interest continued to escalate thereafter. President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke via radio to the Academy in 1941, President Harry Truman sent greetings in 1949, and President Ronald Reagan (former Screen Actors Guild president) provided a prerecorded video greeting in 1981. National coverage began in 1945; the first televised presentation of the Awards ceremonies took place on 19 March 1953.
On three occasions the Academy has postponed, but never canceled, the Awards show. In 1938 floods caused a one-week postponement; in 1968 the Academy postponed the ceremonies for two days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.; and in 1981 the Academy delayed the ceremony for one day because of the attempted assassination of President Reagan. During the "blacklisting" period of the 1950s, political events altered policy: the Academy ruled in February 1957 that any past or present member of the Communist Party and anyone who refused a Congressional subpoena was ineligible for any Academy Award ® .Just under two years later, in January 1959, the Academy repealed that policy.