• Christopher Polk/Getty Images
  • It took too long to give these things out.

Recently I got a chance to look at archival film of the 1949 Academy Awards ceremony, which was hosted by actor Robert Montgomery at the Academy Theatre in Hollywood. The big winners that year were Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, which took best picture, actor, art direction, and costume design, and John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which won best director, screenplay, and supporting actor (Huston’s father, Walter). But the remarkable thing about the program was its brevity—a fleet 72 minutes, with no commercial breaks because the ceremony had yet to be broadcast live. Incredibly, many of the winners barely spoke as they came onstage to pick up their statuettes. “If you want to acknowledge your indebtedness,” Montgomery advised the nominees, “please do it by letter or phone tomorrow.”