For a long time, long before I started this blog, I kicked around the idea of putting together a list of pre-Oscar era Katie Award winners.
But the idea was more academic than reflecting any passion of mine for silent movies. The thought of spending months writing essays about silent movies before I got to the movies I really loved, movies like Duck Soup and The Thin Man, struck me as nuts. So as you may recall, what I wound up doing was handing out four career achievement awards for the pre-Oscar Silent Era: The General (best picture), Charles Chaplin (best actor), Lillian Gish (best actress) and D.W. Griffith (best director).
Then something unexpected happened: I fell in love with silent movies. I discovered I like watching them, become absorbed in them, the good ones that is, the ones that figured out to tell stories without words, movies by Keaton and Murnau and Chaplin, with stars such as Fairbanks and Chaney and Garbo. And now I think I have a handle on what those pre-Oscar Katies would be.
Don't worry, though. I'm not going back and writing essays about all these winners. I'm not delaying my arrival at the sound era by another day. But I do hate to let all that hard work go to waste.
Even so, this expanded list only goes back as far as 1919. In truth, my first-hand know- ledge of movies made before that date is pretty much limited to a couple of D.W. Griffith movies (The Birth Of A Nation and Intolerance), a handful of Mary Pickford classics and a bunch of Charlie Chaplin shorts. Griffith may have invented the language of cinema with an impressive if controversial run from 1915 to 1921, but to my mind, movies didn't really take off as both a modern art form and as a fun, visceral experience until the German Expressionists Robert Weine and F.W. Murnau came along.
If you're interested, this is my rough draft of Katie winners for the years 1919 through July 31, 1927, but I'm warning you that until you've dipped heavily into the list of twenty silent movies I gave you a while back and convinced yourself that silent movies are your cup o' joe, I wouldn't go wading into this at random:
Picture: Broken Blossoms (prod. D.W. Griffith)
Actor: Richard Barthelmess (Broken Blossoms)
Actress: Gloria Swanson (Male and Female)
Director: D.W. Griffith (Broken Blossoms)
Picture: The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (prod. Rudolf Meinert and Erich Pommer)
Actor: Douglas Fairbanks (The Mark Of Zorro)
Actress: Lillian Gish (Way Down East)
Director: Robert Weine (The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari)
Picture: The Kid (prod. Charles Chaplin)
Actor: Charles Chaplin (The Kid)
Actress: Dorothy Gish (Orphans Of The Storm)
Director: Charles Chaplin (The Kid)
Picture: Nosferatu (prod. Enrico Dieckmann and Albin Grau)
Actor: Erich von Stroheim (Foolish Wives)
Actress: Anna May Wong (The Toll Of The Sea)
Director: F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu)
Picture: Safety Last! (prod. Hal Roach)
Actor: Harold Lloyd (Safety Last!)
Actress: Edna Purviance (A Woman Of Paris)
Director: Buster Keaton and John G. Blystone (Our Hospitality)
Picture: The Thief Of Bagdad (prod. Douglas Fairbanks)
Actor: Emil Jannings (The Last Laugh)
Actress: Zasu Pitts (Greed)
Director: Raoul Walsh (The Thief Of Bagdad)
Picture: The Big Parade (prod. King Vidor)
Actor: Lon Chaney (The Phantom Of The Opera)
Actress: Irene Rich (Lady Windermere's Fan)
Director: Sergei M. Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin)
Picture: Faust (prod. Erich Pommer)
Actor: John Gilbert (Flesh And The Devil)
Actress: Greta Garbo (Flesh And The Devil)
Director: F.W. Murnau (Faust)
1927 (January 1 - July 31, 1927)
Picture: The General (prod. Joseph M. Schenck and Buster Keaton)
Actor: Buster Keaton (The General)
Actress: Brigitte Helm (Metropolis)
Director: Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman (The General)
Subject to revision and the threat that someday I'll write bushel baskets full of essays about the winners, you may consider these to be official Katie Awards. Which should please faithful reader Douglas Fairbanks no end.
Katie-Bar-The-Door and I are expecting an invitation to Pickfair for the after-ceremony party.
Note: For those with an interest in such things, I included a producer credit for each of the best picture winners. Some interesting names on there, including the heretofore unmentioned Hal Roach, who produced some of the greatest comedy acts of all time—Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, and Will Rogers, among others. He was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1992 and lived to be 100.
One name shows up twice, Erich Pommer, maybe the most important producer in the influential German film industry during the 1920s and early 1930s. He fled Germany when Hitler came to power and ended up working in an American porcelain factory during World War II. Pommer eventually became a U.S. citizen, returned to making movies after the war and died in 1966.
By the way, if you're keeping score, William Fox produced Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans, the Katie winner for 1927-28. As for the best picture winner of 1928-29, The Passion of Joan of Arc, all I have is the name of a company, Société générale des films. Maybe the board of directors can come down and pick up the award.