Every year around this time, mention is made that my great uncle, Louis B. Mayer, announced the formation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) on January 11th, 1927 by gathering 36 film industry people at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
As the 90th anniversary of this announcement loomed (or not), I went in search of some solid proof and pored through archived issues of Variety, THE entertainment industry bible for over 100 years.
The first mention I discovered is in the Wednesday, January 19, 1927 issue (see clippings at bottom of this article) reporting that Louis B. Mayer called a “secret meeting” and gave 48 hours notice. The date of the meeting is not specified.
Of course, it could have been held on the 11th, and maybe that’s the one tiny detail lost in time. And oddly, while the January 12 issue has plenty of news from the 11th, this meeting is not mentioned, and believe me, a gathering at the Ambassador of 36 people from the film industry would not have gone unnoticed. Remember, Variety was the lake into which every leak flowed.
The Wednesday, February 2, 1927 issue contains an article about a second meeting held on Sunday, January 30th. Evidently, not much came from it because L.B. is away with his family on a trip “back east,” and it was decided to reconvene upon his return.
What we do know, is prior to any reported meetings, my great uncle first invited actor Fred Niblo, director Conrad Nagel, and producer Fred Beetson around to his house on 625 Beach Road for dinner. It was there that he floated his concept to three men he held in high regard, who also represented various pillars of the industry. He wanted to get their views, and spitball, as it were. Once they were on board, then L.B. would’ve moved to gather others around the campfire, which is what the subsequent meetings achieved.
After posting this article on my Facebook page, two helpful people provided a hint for the ’11’ in the date. The May 5, 1927 issue of The Film Daily, another industry rag (published from 1915-1970), reports that a banquet will be held on May 11 for 200 charter members at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles (thanks Jim Junot).
This is backed up with little snippets in newspapers across the country – all on the same date – including in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (thanks Jane Marsh), which offers a handful of tantalizing details about the formation of the Academy I had not seen elsewhere.
This group photograph shows several of the founding members of the Academy after it had incorporated a few weeks later, with Douglas Fairbanks elected as president, front and center, the perfect face of the baby Academy. Uncle Louis is seated on the far left – as per usual, his approach was to take a back seat to those who were more 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: the evidence is not there to back up this date. Perhaps the Academy has some concrete proof?