Hooray for Hollywood

Hollywood postcard
Photoplay Medal of Honor Cover Photoplay Magazine poster Humoresque

The 86th Academy Awards will be broadcast this Sunday but the Oscars weren't the first awards given out in Hollywood. In 1920 nine years before the first Academy Awards the movie magazine Photoplay created what is considered the first significant movie award - the Photoplay Magazine Medal of Honor. The award was chosen by the readers of the magazine and awarded to the producer of the film. The award itself was made of solid gold, designed by Tiffany and humbly referred to as "the greatest award in the whole world of the screen."

Photoplay began in 1911 primarily as a way for Hollywood producers to promote their films. In 1915 the new editors Julian Johnson and James Quirk changed the emphasis of the magazine from the plots and characters of the film to the actors and actresses staring in the films - setting the standard for all other celebrity magazines to come. Photoplay promised "a wealth of intimate details of the daily lives of the screen stars on the lots and in their homes" and "authorized interviews with your favorite actors and actresses."

Among the influential gossip columnists to write for Photoplay were Hedda Hopper, Walter Winchell, Sheilah Graham and Louella Parsons.

The first Medal of Honor winner was the silent film Humoresque. The film was based on a short story by Fannie Hurst published in the March 1919 issue of Cosmopolitan and produced by William Randolph Hearst. It tells the story of a young violinist from the Jewish slums who with the help and love of his mother becomes a great success. But tragedy awaits when he enlists in the army and is sent to France.

The Medal of Honor was given from 1920 to 1939 when it was discontinued. In 1944 Photoplay brought back the award as The Gold Medal for Film, the winner based on polling by George Gallup. The award was discontinued for good in 1968.

Photoplay ceased publication in 1980.

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