(NEXSTAR) — The Lone Star State has a surprising claim to fame at the Academy Awards. Did you know the first movie ever named “Best Picture” at the Oscars was filmed right here in Texas?
It goes back all the way to the first ceremony, held May 16, 1929, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ honored the 1927 silent film “Wings” with the first-ever Academy Award for Best Picture.
Directed by acclaimed director William A. Wellman, “Wings,” was a high-flying action-romance following Army Air Service combat pilots in World War I. The film starred the 1920s “It Girl” Clara Bow — and introduced a then-unknown actor named Gary Cooper to the big screen.
Equipped with a massive (for the time) $2 million budget, the crew of “Wings” filmed the movie’s still-notable aerial sequences at Joint Base San Antonio in San Antonio, especially the Kelly Field area.
Hundreds of extras took to San Antonio’s airfields to stage the film’s groundbreaking and dangerous dogfight shots — which were done for real by the film’s actors, in addition to pilots. Additionally, as the New York Times‘ Dave Kehr explained in 2012, getting shots up in the air was even more complicated because some of the plane cockpits were so small they couldn’t fit an actor, a pilot, a cameraperson and a director of photography. The solution meant lead actors like Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen had to operate their own cameras for some shots, which were mounted in the cockpit.
The stunts paid off, however, as the shots are still regarded as great filmmaking.
The Independent‘s Christopher Hooton pointed out in 2015 that several pilots working on Howard Hughes’ 1930 war film “Hell’s Angels” died after crashing their planes trying to achieve similar shots.
“Wings” went up against fellow silent films “7th Heaven” and “The Racket” for the top honor. It also took home statues for engineering effects. The Academy preserved the film in 2002, which involves digitizing videotape — a process performed on over 1,100 films, the Academy says.
Meanwhile, Wellman went on to direct several other notable films, including the original “A Star is Born.” That film, for which Wellman won the Best Director award, was most recently remade in 2018 by director and star Bradley Cooper alongside co-star Lady Gaga.
The only silent film to win Best Picture?
To date, “Wings” is the only silent film to win Best Picture.
While 2011’s “The Artist” (which won Best Picture at the 84th Academy Awards in 2012) is filmed in the style of — and takes place in the world of — silent films, the movie itself isn’t fully silent. It’s been called a “half-talkie,” since it contains a few instances of diegetic sound (meaning sound that takes place inside the story/can be heard by its characters).