As the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences officially welcomes more than 250 new members into its fold this week, we look back at the earliest days of our organization.
On January 11, 1927, thirty-six of Hollywood’s most prominent figures, including Louis B. Mayer, Mary Pickford, Sid Grauman, Jesse Lasky, Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks, Cedric Gibbons and Irving Thalberg, met to discuss the establishment of an honorary membership organization that would represent the motion picture community. As the industry leaders described in “The Reasons Why,” an early informational pamphlet, they wanted to create an organization that would “do for the motion picture profession in all its branches what other great national and international constructive bodies have done for other arts and sciences and industries.”
The founding members of the Academy invited 300 industry notables to a banquet at the Biltmore Hotel on May 11, 1927, to celebrate and garner support for the fledgling organization, which by then was officially recognized by the State of California. That evening, 230 of the distinguished guests, representing the original five branches of the Academy—Actors, Directors, Producers, Writers and Technicians—became members.
By the early 1930s, membership in the Academy had grown to more than 700 industry professionals, and the invitation-only group had begun to attract attention outside of California as a result of its annual awards ceremony. Among those thrilled to join the organization was actress Jean Harlow, who sent the following letter to the Board of Governors.
Materials documenting the history of the Academy and the Academy Awards can be viewed in Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collections.