Let’s celebrate the silent movie stars who founded the Academy Awards!

The Academy Awards will kick off tomorrow night and so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to remind everyone that the organization was founded almost a year before Al Jolson declared: “You ain’t heard nothing yet!”

The thirty-six founding members of the Academy were men and women who had built their careers in silent film. I thought it would be fun to celebrate the acting branch in the most modern way possible: GIFs! (As usual, I will list where each GIF is from and link to my review of the film.)

Here they are, in alphabetical order by surname:

Richard Barthelmess


Richard Barthelmess managed the challenging combination of being both boyish and intense. Few performers have ever pulled it off but he succeeded and parlayed this success into a series of highly successful vehicles. (Read my review of The Enchanted Cottage here.)

Douglas Fairbanks


Douglas Fairbanks pretty much invented the swashbuckler. No one could match his inventive stunts and his rakish personality and his films boasted some of the most lavish production values of the silent era. (Read my review of The Thief of Bagdad here. I also cover the sound remake.)

Jack Holt


Jack Holt is probably best remembered for his westerns but he appeared in many different genres. In this case, a propaganda picture in which he plays a German-American trying (and failing) to be smooth. (You can read my review of The Little American here and listen to me kvetch about sleazy WWI propaganda films.)

Harold Lloyd

two-gun-gussie-hat-punchHarold Lloyd is remembered as the guy hanging from the clock and sometimes erroneously credited with inventing the romantic comedy (because, apparently, Ernst Lubitsch never existed). Lloyd brought an everyman charm to his comedy and his Glasses character remains an icon of silent cinema. (Read my review of Two-Gun Gussie here.)

Conrad Nagel


While he started out at Paramount, Conrad Nagel found his greatest success at MGM, where he supported the biggest stars on the lot: Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Lon Chaney and Wallace Beery. (Read my review of Saturday Night here.)

Mary Pickford

little-annie-rooney-hiding-in-a-pipeMary Pickford does not receive nearly enough credit for her role in establishing the Movies as we know them. In addition to being a charming actress, she was also an intelligent businesswoman and skillful producer. (Read my review of Little Annie Rooney here.)

Milton Sills

sea-hawk-acquaintance-with-rope-movies-silently-1Milton Sills dumped academia for a career on the stage and then made a successful jump to the silver screen. While he was known as Hollywood’s resident brainiac, his films were macho affairs in which he played brawny manly men. (Read my review of The Sea Hawk here.)

(Fun fact! Four out of seven of these actors starred in at least one Cecil B. DeMille picture.)

That covers the acting branch but there were other members who had worked in front of the camera before they switched to a different department in the movie industry.

A special shout-out to Jeanie Macpherson, who started as an actress, tried out directing but found her true calling as a screenwriter. She collaborated with Cecil B. DeMille for decades and here is a GIF from one of her last screen appearances before disappearing behind a typewriter to create masterpieces of wackiness:

Macpherson is second from the left.
Macpherson is second from the left.

Macpherson is one of the cigarette factory workers who taunts Carmen. Never a good idea. (Read my review here.)

And another shout-out to Raoul Walsh, a director who returned to acting in order to play leading man to Gloria Swanson in Sadie Thompson. Gloria got a nomination but lost to Janet Gaynor. Robbery! Robbery! I protest!

Note: The rest of the Academy founders were directors, producers, writers, executives and lawyers. Some of them did appear as performers in films before switching professions but I was unable to obtain copies.


  1. Ian Chodikoff

    The origins of the Academy makes me want to know more about the producers that promoted actors throughout the 1920s. Irving Thalberg–who died so young–comes to mind. It seems some studio heads like the Warners, Zukor and Fox saw actors as a commodity. And this is a whole other topic. But what about the producers, lawyers and executives who believed in the actors they supported?

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Since this post is image based, specifically GIF based, I opted to focus on the acting branch and members of the writing and directing branches who had dabbled in acting. The focus on actors is a feature, not a bug.

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