Total Recall

Discontinued Academy Awards

With the Oscars right around the corner, we take a look at the awards the stars won't be taking home this year.

by | January 15, 2015 | Comments

Defunct Oscars

Before Hollywood’s best and brightest get all gussied up for the main event on February 22, we take a look back at some of the awards the Academy won’t be handing out — specifically, the ones that have been phased out over the previous 86 ceremonies due to technological progress, redundancy, or a simple lack of popularity among the voters.



Academy Juvenile Award

Years Awarded: 1934-60 (off and on)

Noteworthy Winners: Given that only a dozen people ever took one home, most of the winners were fairly noteworthy, but the most memorable names on the list include Shirley Temple (who won the very first Juvenile Award Oscar), Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, and Hayley Mills (who won the last one for her work in Pollyanna).

Why It Was Retired: Created after a nine-year-old Jackie Cooper lost out for Best Actor in 1931, the Juvenile Award was always a little patronizing — it existed because Academy members felt like child actors were at a disadvantage when competing against their older counterparts, and the statue itself was a half-sized Oscar replica — and over the years, enough younger actors crossed over into the “real” categories that when 16-year-old Patty Duke finally won Best Supporting Actress for her performance in 1963’s The Miracle Worker, age discrimination no longer seemed necessary.


Best Assistant Director

Years Awarded: 1934-37

Noteworthy Winners: Clem Beauchamp and Paul Wing, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935). Neither of them ever became household names, but Beauchamp and Wing both led fascinating lives behind the scenes. Beauchamp abandoned his short-lived acting career (which included a role in Clark Gable’s The Painted Desert) to become a second unit director, then moved into production, working on a long and varied list of films and TV series (such as High Noon, Death of a Salesman, and The Adventures of Superman). Wing, meanwhile, was a World War I veteran when he arrived in Hollywood, and after a few years of (mostly uncredited) studio work, re-enlisted for WWII — during which he endured the Bataan Death March as a prisoner of the Japanese.

Why It Was Retired: As anyone who’s spent time on a film set could tell you, it isn’t unusual for the AD to get the short end of the stick — it’s a position that requires a lot of dirty work (e.g. scheduling, budget management, and setting up location shoots) and comes with very little glory. Unlike the awards that were eliminated due to redundancy or changing technology, the Best Assistant Director Oscar could always make a welcome return.


Best Dance Direction

Years Awarded: 1935-37

Noteworthy Winners: The category’s final winner, Hermes Pan, only took home one Oscar in his career (for “Fun House,” from A Damsel in Distress), but he was one of Hollywood’s most distinguished and in-demand choreographers over the 40-year span between 1928-68, thanks largely to his status as Fred Astaire’s longtime collaborator. A relatively early Pan/Astaire picture, A Damsel in Distress actually lost money for the studio (probably due at least in part to Ginger Rogers’ absence), but there’s no arguing with the cast (which included George Burns and Gracie Allen) or the music, provided by George and Ira Gershwin.

Why It Was Retired: These days, a Best Dance Direction Oscar wouldn’t make any sense, but at the time, there was still plenty of hoofing on the big screen. The Best Dance Direction category rankled the DGA, however, and after a few years of insisting that “direction” should only apply to the overall film, they successfully lobbied for its removal.

Best Director, Comedy Picture

Years Awarded: 1928

Noteworthy Winners: Lewis Milestone took home the first and last Best Comedy Direction Oscar for Two Arabian Knights, starring William Boyd and Louis Wolheim as a pair of World War I soldiers whose constant squabbling lands them in a German POW camp — and, eventually, onto a ship bound for Arabia, where both men fall under the spell of a veiled beauty (Mary Astor). Part of a trilogy of Howard Hughes productions that were thought lost for decades, Knights eventually turned up after Hughes’ death, and has been aired by the Turner Classic Movies channel on a couple of recent occasions.

Why It Was Retired: Like a lot of other category deductions, it was most likely done under the guise of streamlining the awards by honoring one overall director rather than splitting the nominees between genres, but in light of the Academy’s longstanding perceived bias against comedy, it’s hard to see this decision as anything more than another example of Oscar’s serious nature.


Best Engineering Effects

Years Awarded: 1929

Noteworthy Winners: Just one: William A. Wellman’s World War I flying drama Wings, which also took home the very first Best Picture Oscar and was (rather incredibly) lost for decades before a spare negative was discovered in the Paramount vaults and meticulously restored. Starring Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Richard Arlen, and future sweethearts Clara Bow and Gary Cooper, the picture benefited from Wellman’s flight experience, as well as then-cutting-edge special effects; today, it’s enshrined in the National Film Registry.

Why It Was Retired: The early Oscar years came with a lot of category rejiggering; in fact, at the first ceremony, Best Picture was called Outstanding Picture — and it wasn’t deemed as desirable as Unique and Artistic Production, a category that was dropped the following year. What effects artists lost when this award was eliminated, however, they eventually regained with Special Effects (later renamed Special Visual Effects before finally becoming Visual Effects in 1977).


Best Original Musical or Comedy Score

Years Awarded: 1995-98

Noteworthy Winners: While most of the winners leaned one way or the other on the “musical or comedy” spectrum, 1998’s The Full Monty proved a crowd-pleasing blend of both, using a pretty gloomy storyline (about a group of unemployed men who decide to start a burlesque show in order to make ends meet) as the basis for a surprisingly thoughtful comedy with a feel-good soundtrack — including what might be the best-ever use of Tom Jones’ cover of the Randy Newman classic “You Can Leave Your Hat On.” The award for the score, however, went to Anne Dudley — the composer fondly remembered by children of the 1980s as a member of the avant garde synthpop band Art of Noise.

Why It Was Retired: The Academy has changed its approach to awarding musicians and composers many times over the years, and this award — designed to give songwriters and lyricists a chance at Oscardom — is just one short-lived example.


Best Score – Adaptation or Treatment

Years Awarded: 1962-67

Noteworthy Winners: This Academy Award, created to honor the composers who worked on big-screen adaptations of stage musicals, happened to have its run during a pretty good stretch for the genre — The Sound of Music, The Music Man, and My Fair Lady were all honored during the Best Score – Adaptation or Treatment’s brief existence, along with Irma la Douce, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Camelot.

Why It Was Retired: Prior to this category’s introduction, music was honored with the Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture and Scoring of a Musical Picture Oscars; after it was phased out, the Academy moved on to the Original Score for a Motion Picture (not a Musical) and Score of a Musical Picture – Original or Adaptation categories. A bit of semantics, in other words.

Best Short Subject – Color

Years Awarded: 1936-37

Noteworthy Winners: We’ve only got two winners in this category: B. Reeves Eason’s Give Me Liberty and David Miller’s Penny Wisdom, a comedy about the culinary horror that unfolds after an inept homemaker’s cook quits just as the man of the house is bringing home his boss and a client for dinner. Of the two, Eason’s film might be more interesting, if only because it was his work as a second-unit director on Charge of the Light Brigade that led to one of the most scandalous animal slaughters in Hollywood history — and the presence of the Humane Society on film sets for decades to follow.

Why It Was Retired: With the advent of color film, a separate designation for the medium was no longer necessary; today, Oscar honors film shorts in three separate categories: Live Action, Animated, and Documentary.

Best Short Subject – Comedy

Years Awarded: 1932-35

Noteworthy Winners: The first winner, 1932’s The Music Box, was a Hal Roach production starring Laurel and Hardy as a pair of inept movers tasked with getting a player piano up an insurmountably long stairway. Less than half an hour in length, Box made a big impact, to the extent that the steps themselves (in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake district) have become something of a tourist destination — and the short itself was inducted into the National Film Registry in 1997.

Why It Was Retired: The Academy has often displayed a certain degree of ambivalence when it comes to comedy, but in this case, the category’s removal had more to do with a shift away from dividing live-action shorts by genre.

Best Short Subject – Live Action Two Reels

Years Awarded: 1936-56

Noteworthy Winners: A fair number of these shorts have been lost to the vagaries of time, but that doesn’t mean they were any less distinguished — in fact, some of the directors who were nominated or won included legendary producer Irving Allen, prolific documentarian Gordon Hollingshead, frequent Three Stooges helmer Jules White, and sports writer Grantland Rice.

Why It Was Retired: After 1956, the Academy no longer needed to differentiate between one-reel and two-reel shorts, and switched to the Short Subjects, Live Action Subjects category, which eventually morphed into Live Action Short Film in 1974.

Best Short Subject – Novelty

Years Awarded: 1932-35

Noteworthy Winners: The Novelty category was used as a sort of catchall for a number of films, such as Pete Smith’s patronizing, gently humorous domestic instruction manual Menu. The winners, however, tended toward the documentary end of the spectrum — and since movies like Krakatoa and Wings Over Everest showed viewers parts of the world they were unlikely to ever visit, it could be argued that all of them were noteworthy (even 1934’s City of Wax, which took a look at the life of a bee).

Why It Was Retired: In 1936 and 1937, the Academy refined its approach to awarding short films by splitting the nominees into Color, One-Reel, and Two-Reel categories, then dropping the Color category in 1938.

Best Title Writing

Years Awarded: 1929

Noteworthy Winners: We only have one to choose from: Joseph Farnham, a playwright, screenwriter, and film editor whose life story boasts a few distinctions. Not only did Farnham take home the first and last Oscar for Best Title Writing, he was also one of the founding members of the Academy — and in 1931, he sadly became the first award winner to die, succumbing to a heart attack at the age of 47.

Why It Was Retired: With “talkies” already taking over Hollywood, fewer and fewer films needed title cards to spell out dialogue or explain plot developments, and by the time the second Academy Awards were held in April 1930, the Best Title Writing category was a thing of the past.


Best Unique and Artistic Quality of Production

Years Awarded: 1929

Noteworthy Winners: There was only one: F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, starring George O’Brien as a man tempted to stray from the bonds of his marriage by a floozy from the big city (Margaret Livingston) who nearly convinces him to murder his wife (Janet Gaynor, the year’s Best Actress winner) before he changes his mind and — after a storm nearly separates them forever — they find their way back to happy matrimony. Boasting groundbreaking Academy Award-winning cinematography and finely distinctive set design to go with its admittedly rather simplistic and fanciful story, Sunrise was the year’s big Oscar winner; today, it resides in the National Film Registry (as well as on a number of critical all-time best lists).

Why It Was Retired: Viewed by many as a redundant clone of the Best Picture award (which was referred to as Outstanding Picture at the first ceremony), Unique and Artistic Quality of Production was one of three categories phased out after the first Academy Awards.

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