1930-31 Academy Awards®
Winners and History
Introduction, 1927/8-39, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s
Academy Awards Summaries
"Best Picture" Oscar®, "Best Director" Oscar®, "Best Actor" Oscar®, "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar®,
"Best Actress" Oscar®, "Best Supporting Actress" Oscar®, "Best Screenplay/Writer" Oscar®
The 1930/1 ceremony was the first in which the 'Best Picture' category was officially recognized (previously in the first three years in which awards were presented, the top award had been termed 'Best Production'). So technically, Cimarron was the first film to win 'Best Picture'.
The filmed version of Edna Ferber's best-selling western tale about a typical American frontier family (the Cravats: Richard Dix and Irene Dunne, from 1890-1915) and the rise of Oklahoma to statehood, RKO's Cimarron (with seven nominations and three wins - Best Picture, Best (Writing) Adaptation, Best Interior Decoration), was directed by Wesley Ruggles and won for Best Picture. Although it didn't win Best Director, it won most of the major non-acting awards.
The winner was an extremely expensive production, at a cost of about $1.5 million. It was one of the few Westerns so honored and one of the weakest Best Picture winners in Academy history - it may be more properly categorized as a melodrama. [It would be another 60 years until another western, Dances With Wolves (1990) would receive the same honor.]
The remaining four Best Picture nominees were:
Norman Taurog won the Best Director award for Skippy - he was directing his own ten year-old nephew Jackie Cooper - as a health inspector's son who wishes to save an impounded dog and befriends slum children in a second crisis in Shantytown. The film's screenplay was written by young Joseph L. Mankiewicz - and was based on a popular comic strip, Percy L. Crosby's Skippy. Two directors and their much more enduring films - Josef von Sternberg's tale of a romance between foreign legion soldier (Gary Cooper) and a singer (Marlene Dietrich) in Morocco and Lewis Milestone's The Front Page were unfortunate losers. Clarence Brown was also nominated as Best Director for his adaptation of Adela Rogers St. Johns' magazine-story memoirs, A Free Soul (with three nominations and one win - Best Actor) - it starred Lionel Barrymore as a hard-drinking criminal lawyer who helps low-life mobster/gambler Clark Gable beat a murder rap (this film made Clark Gable a sex symbol).
The Best Actor award went to veteran actor Lionel Barrymore (with his sole nomination for acting - and sole award about mid-way through his career) as dissolute and drunken lawyer Stephen Ashe in A Free Soul, who wants Norma Shearer to court Leslie Howard instead of Clark Gable. He won the award mainly for his final classic courtroom scene. He became the only Barrymore (among brother John and sister Ethel) to win a major acting award. [Two years earlier, actor/director Barrymore was nominated for directing Madame X - he was the only dual nominee for actor and director until Orson Welles received the same two nominations for Citizen Kane (1941).]
Barrymore defeated younger stars including:
"The Grand Lady of Hollywood" - the elderly (62 year old) actress Marie Dressler (with her first nomination and sole win) won the Best Actress award, a 'career' win, for director George Hill's Min and Bill (the film's sole nomination). She played the role of Min, a rough-talking boozer who was paired up with actor Wallace Beery as a battling waterfront couple (proprietors of a hotel) who risk losing the custody of their adopted daughter due to their tippling.
In similar fashion, Dressler won the award over four more attractive Hollywood lovelies:
Note: The award-winning cinematographer for Murnau's Tabu was Floyd Crosby, the father of rock singer David Crosby (of Crosby, Stills and Nash).
Oscar Snubs and Omissions:
Two other early, violent gangster films were almost entirely neglected: The Public Enemy and Little Caesar. The former received a Best Writing (Original) nomination, and the latter received a Best Writing (Adaptation) nomination, but both James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson ( who never received a nomination for an award in his entire career) were ignored as actors in star-making roles. In addition, although The Dawn Patrol was nominated (and won) for Best Original Screenplay, it didn't receive any other nominations.
Charlie Chaplin's greatest film with the Little Tramp character, City Lights (1931), a silent film (with a musical soundtrack and sound effects, however) released three years after the talkies were introduced (and presumably the victim of pro-talking film prejudice), was not nominated for a single Academy Award.
Also, Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel (1930) with Marlene Dietrich in her first role with the director, Tod Browning's Dracula with Bela Lugosi as the famed vampire, and James Whale's Frankenstein with Boris Karloff as the Monster were unrecognized. A worthy Best Picture runner-up was also ignored - F. W. Murnau's Tabu. German director Fritz Lang was un-nominated as Best Director for M.