1934 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®
This was the first year that the Academy decided to match the eligibility period to the calendar year. From now on, the nominating selections and the award ceremony would cover the same calendar year. Three new categories were added: for Film Editing, Song, and Scoring. The Academy allowed write-in candidates in all categories after members denounced the omission of Bette Davis (Of Human Bondage) from the Best Actress nominees. Write-in candidates were disallowed after 1935, a year later.
The Best Picture category had a record twelve nominated films. (This total would remain for one more year, and then decrease to ten, and finally to five.)
The film that dominated and swept all major categories of the awards was Columbia's come-from-behind It Happened One Night, Frank Capra's exceptional screwball romantic comedy that gave birth to the genre. The sparkling, 'Capra-corn' film was about an antagonistic couple - a spoiled runaway heiress (Colbert) and a recently-fired newspaper reporter (Gable in his first comedic role) - an affectionate feuding, battle of the sexes during their bus and hitch-hiking trip on the road. Instead of turning her in for the reward, he falls in love with her. The film illustrated that even a wealthy heiress could find happiness and adventure on the road among the common folk. Numerous scenes in the film have become classics: the hitchhiking scene with Claudette Colbert lifting her skirt for a ride, Gable's bared chest (causing undershirt sales to drop dramatically), and the motel room divided by the "walls of Jericho."
It was Columbia's first Best Picture winner and the first major Academy Awards sweep of the "Top Five" awards categories (with five nominations and five wins - Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Adaptation by screenwriter Robert Riskin), un-equaled and un-duplicated until One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). [In each case, these films won no other Oscars than the top awards.] It was the first time in Academy history that both male and female leads (Gable and Colbert) from the same film, a Best Picture nominee (and winner), won the top or lead award for acting (Best Actor and Best Actress).
There were eleven other films nominated for Best Picture in 1934:
The winner of the Best Actor award was the "King" - Clark Gable (with the first of three career nominations and his sole win) for his role as down-on-his-luck reporter Peter Warne in It Happened One Night.
The two Best Actor competitors were:
Gable's French-born co-star, Claudette Colbert (with the first of three career nominations and her sole win) won the Best Actress award for her performance as runaway heiress Ellie Andrews in It Happened One Night. [Colbert was the first performer to appear in three Best Picture-nominated films in the same year - she also starred in Cleopatra and Imitation of Life. This feat would be repeated by Charles Laughton in 1935, Thomas Mitchell in 1939 and John C. Reilly in 2002]. The hitchhiking scene contained Gable's immortal line to Colbert when she lifted her skirt slightly to expose a bit of her leg, and promptly stopped a passing car: "Why didn't you take off all your clothes? You could have stopped 40 cars."
The other two Best Actress nominees were:
Five year old, popular Fox Studios money-maker Shirley Temple (born on April 23, 1928, she was almost six years old at the time of the Academy banquet held on March 16, 1934) was presented with a miniature statuette - a Special Award - for her "outstanding contribution to screen entertainment during the year 1934". By some accounts, she remains the youngest Oscar recipient in history.
And Walt Disney picked up another (his third consecutive) Short Subject: Cartoon Award for The Tortoise and the Hare.
Oscar Snubs and Omissions:
Although a comedy was the recipient of numerous awards, two other great comedies were neglected:
The Academy also ignored another Josef von Sternberg (and Marlene Dietrich) film, The Scarlet Empress.
Horror films rarely received nominations, such as director Edgar Ulmer's The Black Cat with the leads (Karloff, Lugosi) and its brilliant Expressionist cinematography (John Mescall) and art direction/set design (Charles D. Hall).
One of the most controversial oversights of the Academy was denying Warner Bros' actress Bette Davis an official Best Actress nomination for her performance as the slutty, bleach-blonde, Cockney waitress Mildred, who took advantage of sensitive, crippled (club-footed) doctor Philip Carey (Leslie Howard), in RKO's Of Human Bondage - she was a write-in candidate only (who lost), but was compensated the next year with a Best Actress Oscar win for Dangerous (1935).
Myrna Loy was un-nominated for her performance in The Thin Man.