Fifty years ago, the Oscars showed old Hollywood giving way to the new—in ways that feel strikingly resonant today.
LOS ANGELES—For the first time in years, the Oscars ceremonies had no host. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was pressing to diversify its aging membership in the face of changing times. A divisive Republican president had taken office and civil discourse was strained. A charismatic, blue-eyed actor had made his critically praised directorial debut, but the Academy’s directing branch had denied him a nomination.
The year was 1969, not 2019. Kevin Hart was 10 years from being born; the president was Richard Nixon, not Donald Trump; and the actor-director was Paul Newman, not Bradley Cooper. But 50 years ago, just as today, the annual Oscars telecast captured a shifting moment in movie history, as the old Hollywood gave way—tentatively, haltingly, sometimes grudgingly—to the new. Then, as now, declining attendance at movie theaters was the existential threat, even if streaming-video services had yet to be dreamed of, and the future of old-line studios looked uncertain at best. And then, as now, the systems and methods of financing and making movies were changing. That very year, Warner Bros. was acquired by a parking-garage company, though no one could presumably imagine that it would one day be owned by AT&T.