12th Academy Awards
DateFebruary 29, 1940
SiteCoconut Grove, The Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles
Hosted byBob Hope
Best PictureGone with the Wind
Most awardsGone with the Wind (8)
Most nominationsGone with the Wind (13)

The 12th Academy Awards ceremony, held on February 29, 1940 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), honored the best in film for 1939 at a banquet in the Coconut Grove at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.[1] It was hosted by Bob Hope, in his first of nineteen turns as host.

David O. Selznick's Gone with the Wind received the most nominations of the year with thirteen, winning eight Oscars (both records at the time). This year was the first in which multiple films received ten or more nominations (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington received eleven).

This was the first year in which Best Visual Effects was a competitive category; previously, "special achievement" awards for effects had occasionally been conferred. This year, Best Cinematography was split into Color and Black & White categories.

Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to receive an Academy Award, winning Best Supporting Actress for Gone with the Wind. Mickey Rooney became the second-youngest nominee for Best Actor at 19, and the first teenager to be nominated for an Academy Award, for his performance in Babes in Arms.

Winners and nominees

David O. Selznick; Best Picture winner and Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award recipient
Victor Fleming; Best Director winner
Robert Donat; Best Actor winner
Vivien Leigh; Best Actress winner
Thomas Mitchell; Best Supporting Actor winner
Hattie McDaniel; Best Supporting Actress winner
Sidney Howard; Best Screenplay winner
Richard Hageman; Best Scoring co-winner
Harold Arlen; Best Song co-winner
Gregg Toland; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White winner
Judy Garland; Juvenile Academy Award recipient
Douglas Fairbanks; Honorary Academy Award recipient
Jean Hersholt; Honorary Academy Award recipient
Ralph Morgan; Honorary Academy Award recipient
Ralph Block; Honorary Academy Award recipient
Conrad Nagel; Honorary Academy Award recipient

Nominees were announced on February 11, 1940. AMPAS presented Academy Awards of Merit in 20 categories. Nominees for each award are listed below; award winners are listed first and highlighted in boldface.

Academy Honorary Awards

Academy Honorary Awards were presented to:

Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award

The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award was presented to David O. Selznick.

Academy Juvenile Award

The Academy Juvenile Award was presented to Judy Garland for The Wizard of Oz.

Multiple nominations and awards

The lead-up to the awards ceremony

Prior to the announcement of nominations, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Gone with the Wind were the two films most widely tipped to receive a significant number of nominations. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington premiered in Washington with a premier party hosted by the National Press Club who found themselves portrayed unfavourably in the film; the film's theme of political corruption was condemned and the film was denounced in the U.S. Senate. Joseph P. Kennedy, the U.S. Ambassador to Britain urged President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the studio head Harry Cohn to cease showing the film overseas because "it will cause our allies to view us in an unfavourable light". Among those who campaigned in favour of the film were Hedda Hopper who declared it "as great as Lincoln's Gettysburg speech", while Sheilah Graham called it the "best talking picture ever made". Screen Book magazine stated that it "should win every Academy Award". Frank Capra, the director, and James Stewart, the film's star were considered front runners to win awards.

Gone with the Wind premiered in December 1939 with a Gallup poll taken shortly before its release concluding that 56.5 million people intended to see the film. The New York Film Critics Award was given to Wuthering Heights after thirteen rounds of balloting had left the voters deadlocked between Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Gone with the Wind. The press were divided in their support for the nominated actors. Time magazine favoured Vivien Leigh and used her portrait for their Christmas 1939 edition, and The Hollywood Reporter predicted a possible win by Leigh and Laurence Olivier with the comment that they "are, for the moment, just about the most sacred of all Hollywood's sacred cows". West Coast newspapers, particularly in Los Angeles, predicted Bette Davis would win for Dark Victory. Observing that Davis had achieved four box office successes during the year, one paper wrote, "Hollywood will stick by its favourite home-town girl, Bette Davis".


Capra was the incumbent President of the Academy, and in a first for Academy Awards ceremonies, sold the rights for the event to be filmed. Warner Bros. obtained the rights, for $30,000 to film the banquet and the presentation of the awards, to use as a short, and it was shot by the cinematographer Charles Rosher. Variety noted the stars in attendance were conscious of being filmed at the event for the first time and the event was marked by glamour with fashion-conscious actresses wearing the best of gowns, furs and jewellery.

The Los Angeles Times printed a substantially accurate list of winners, despite a promise to withhold the results of the voting, so many of the nominees learned before arriving at the ceremony who had won. Among these were Clark Gable and Bette Davis.

Following the banquet, Capra opened proceedings at 11pm with a short speech before introducing Bob Hope who made his first appearance as host of the awards. Looking at a table laden with awards awaiting presentation, he quipped, "I feel like I'm in Bette Davis' living room". Mickey Rooney presented an Academy Juvenile Award to Judy Garland, who then performed "Over the Rainbow", a "Best Song" nominee from The Wizard of Oz.

As the evening progressed, Gone with the Wind won the majority of awards, and Bob Hope remarked to David O. Selznick, "David, you should have brought roller skates". Making a speech, Selznick paused to extend praise and gratitude to Olivia de Havilland, a "Best Supporting Actress" nominee, and made it clear in his speech he knew she had not won. Fay Bainter presented the awards for Best Supporting Actor and Actress, prefacing her presentation of the latter award with the knowing comment, "It is a tribute to a country where people are free to honor noteworthy achievements regardless of creed, race or color". Hattie McDaniel became the first black performer to win an Academy Award and in expressing her gratitude promised to be "a credit to my race" before bursting into tears. De Havilland was among those to make their way to McDaniel's table to offer congratulations, though it was reported de Havilland then fled to the kitchen, where she burst into tears. The press reported an irritated David O. Selznick followed her, and shook her before she composed herself and returned to her table.[2] Incidentally, movie historian (and future Turner Classic Movies host) Robert Osborne once reported that "not once did anyone mention the name of Margaret Mitchell, the small woman who had simply written the book on which the victorious movie was based."[3]

Robert Donat, the winner for "Best Actor", was one of three nominated actors not present (the others were Irene Dunne and Greta Garbo). Accepting the award for Donat, Spencer Tracy said he was sure Donat's win was welcomed by "the entire motion-picture industry" before presenting the "Best Actress" award to Vivien Leigh. The press noted Bette Davis was among those waiting to congratulate Leigh as she returned to her table.

Post-awards discussion

Further controversy erupted following the ceremony, with the Los Angeles Times reporting that Leigh had won over Davis by the smallest of margins and that Donat had likewise won over James Stewart by a small number of votes. This led Academy officials to examine ways that the voting process, and more importantly, the results, would remain secret in future years.[4] They considered the Los Angeles Times publication of such details as a breach of faith.[3]

Hattie McDaniel received considerable attention from the press with Daily Variety writing, "Not only was she the first of her race to receive an Award, but she was also the first Negro ever to sit at an Academy banquet".[5]

Carole Lombard was quoted as comforting Gable after his loss, with the comment "Don't worry, Pappy. We'll bring one home next year". Gable replied that he felt this had been his last chance to which Lombard was said to have replied, "Not you, you self-centered bastard. I meant me."[2]

Academy Award ceremony presenters

The ceremony presenters are listed below in the sequence of awards presented.[6]

Presenter Award(s)
Darryl F. Zanuck Scientific and Technical Awards, Film Editing, Sound Recording, Cinematography, Art Direction, and Special Effects
Gene Buck Music awards
Bob Hope Short-subject awards
Mickey Rooney Special Juvenile Academy Award to Judy Garland
Mervyn LeRoy Best Director
Sinclair Lewis Writing awards
Y. Frank Freeman Best Picture
Basil O'Connor Special awards to Jean Hersholt, Ralph Morgan, Ralph Block, and Conrad Nagel
Dr. Ernest Martin Hopkins Irving Thalberg Award
Walter Wanger Commemorative award to Douglas Fairbanks
Fay Bainter Supporting Actor and Actress
Spencer Tracy Best Actor and Actress

See also


  1. ^ "The 12th Academy Awards (1940) Nominees and Winners". Oscars.org (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved August 10, 2011.
  2. ^ a b "Oscars Babylon: Tales from the Academy awards". The Independent. Retrieved November 17, 2023.
  3. ^ a b Wallechinsky, David; Wallace, Irving (1975). The People's Almanac. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. p. 835. ISBN 0-385-04060-1.
  4. ^ "Academy Awards A to Z". BBC News. January 24, 2011. Archived from the original on February 24, 2011. Retrieved February 27, 2011.
  5. ^ "Black actors still face Oscar challenges". CNN. Retrieved November 17, 2023.
  6. ^ Wiley, Mason; Bona, Damien (1996). Inside Oscar: the unofficial history of the Academy Awards (10. anniversary rev. ed., with new chapters on the winners, heartbreaks, and behind-the-scenes surprises ed.). New York, NY: Ballantine Books. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-345-40053-6.