Yesterday there was some mention that my great uncle Louis B. Mayer announced the formation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on January 11th, 1927. I was curious as to where that date came from – as we all know if something gets repeated twice it becomes fact, at least on the internet.
So I went searching this morning and poured through archived issues of Variety, which as many of you would know was THE entertainment industry bible for decades. Over dozens of pages, each issue covered the ‘Pictures’, ‘Vaudeville’, ‘Burlesque’, ‘Legitimate’, ‘Foreign’, and included ads, personal notices, letters, and gossip.
Everything was reported in Variety, including deaths, divorces, law suits, even a woman fainting from a gorilla suit used in a production (see photos attached). It appeared to be the lake into which every leak flowed, the editors must have had spies everywhere, or perhaps its reporters could shrink themselves to the size of a fly and take notes while sitting on a wall – possibly all of the above. Variety was also a weekly paper so there was plenty of time to gather every last tidbit into the next issue.
In any event, the first mention of anything remotely like the announcement is in the Wednesday, January 19, 1927 issue, which I’ve attached. The article states that Louis B. Mayer called a secret meeting and gave 48 hours notice. There’s no mention when it was held – the article is headed January 18, which could either indicate the date of the meeting or when the report is filed. It’s fascinating to read Variety’s heavy emphasis on settling industry disputes, which is no surprise because this issue is rife during that time. Nevertheless, my understanding is that LB’s intentions were twofold: lift the film industry’s credibility through one cohesive body and industry arbitration.
The reporter includes that the next gathering would be held in two weeks time, so I scoured every page and in the Wednesday, February 2, 1927 issue there is an article about a second meeting held on Sunday, January 30th. However, not much comes of it because uncle Louis is away with his family on a trip ‘back east’, and it is decided to reconvene upon his return.
Prior to the meeting reported on January 19th, uncle Louis invited Fred Niblo, Conrad Nagel and Fred Beetson to his house on 625 Beach Road and over dinner floated his idea. I’ve attached a photo of the very dining room where the men sat around and heard about LB’s grand vision. Was that dinner possibly on the 11th of January? That would have been a Tuesday night, which is possible, of course, but a Sunday night seems more likely.
The group photograph I’ve included shows several of the founding members of the now incorporated Academy, with Douglas Fairbanks elected as president and seated at the center. Uncle Louis is seated on the far left – as per usual, his approach was to take a back seat to those who were naturally suited to the role and/or the spotlight. He was a natural catalyst.
So did Louis B. Mayer announce the formation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on January 11th, 1927? The short answer is I don’t know but so far the evidence isn’t there to back up this date.
Feel free to post below, tweet or reach me on Facebook if you have anything that might solve this mystery.