Oscars Flashback: Inside the First Televised Ceremony (Photos)
This story first appeared in the March 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
"The long-predicted marriage between the motion picture industry and television came off without a hitch last night," wrote THR the day after the first televised Oscar ceremony in 1953. Film's most glamorous stars, including Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Curtis and Gloria Grahame, hit RKO Pantages Theatre in Hollywood for the 25th Annual Academy Awards. It rained that day, cutting bleacher attendance to 1,500 (about half of the previous year's count), but that did not dampen the spirits of the celebrities, who were ready for their close-ups. Mitzi Gaynor had her appendix removed days before the ceremony but was determined to attend with her date, Hugh O'Brian. "It was raining, but we didn't care," she says. "I was just so young and dumb in those days!"
Click the photo of Bob Hope to view more moments of the first televised Oscars.
Bob Hope hosted the 110-minute telecast (taped simultaneously at New York's NBC International Theatre so actors working on Broadway could take part), becoming flustered only once when Charles Brackett surprised him with an honorary Oscar. The show, sponsored by RCA for $100,000, was not without glitches: Cameras caught Shirley Booth, who was in New York, tripping on her way to the stage to accept the best actress statuette for Come Back, Little Sheba.
The Greatest Show on Earth nabbed best picture and The Bad and the Beautiful won five Oscars, but the telecast -- seen in an estimated 10.9 million homes -- was the night's biggest winner. "It was a very exciting time," says Robert Wagner. "It was an adventure, being televised for the first time."