Sometimes it takes a pass or two before the purveyors of our entertainment perfect their technique. Sometimes, it just takes the public awhile to catch on to a good thing. And other times we just forget how weird things once were.
At any rate, we like to see trailblazers get their due, and we also like things that entertain us in incredibly awesome ways. Here are some shiny, new firsts in the world of entertainment, and we’re guessing that a lot of ’em are going to surprise you.
10. First Special Effects Epic (The Lost World, 1925)
While portions of this 1925 silent film have been lost, it nevertheless stands as a monumental achievement in special effects for the time. Famed stop-motion effects artist Willis O’Brien created the dinosaurs in this film as a sort of test run for his 1933 masterpiece King Kong, and though of course the effects are beyond primitive by today’s standards, it’s hard to overstate how stunned contemporary audiences were by them.
A screening of test footage took place in 1922, arranged by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who told nobody where the film had come from.) Footage of an attacking Allosaurus was screened for the American Society of Magicians (of which Harry Houdini was a member) resulting in a front page story in the New York Times the following day: “(The) monsters of the ancient world, or of the new world which (Doyle) has discovered in the ether, were extraordinarily lifelike. If fakes, they were masterpieces.” The Lost World was the first film to feature animation of this type, and set a model for the thousands of effects-oriented blockbusters to come.
9. First Nationwide Color TV Broadcast (Tournament of Roses Parade, NBC, 1954)
While most American homes didn’t have a color television until the mid to late-’60s, color TV broadcasting on a coast-to-coast scale began in the ’50s, and the very first nationwide color broadcast was one that continues to be broadcast annually today- NBC’s Tournament of Roses parade.
Oddly enough, on the date of the broadcast (January 1, 1954,) there was exactly one model of color television available to consumers in the United States. That would be the 15-inch Admiral C1617A, which had gone on sale in select US markets exactly two days before this inaugural broadcast. If you weren’t watching the Tournament of Roses on an Admiral, you were watching it in black and white; considering the thing cost nearly $1,200, that was probably the best option. To put that price in perspective, by the way, the average cost of a new car at the time was $1,700.
8. First Horror Film Nominated for Best Picture (The Exorcist, 1973)
The Exorcist remains among the scariest films of all time forty years after its release, and for good reason. While there are enough shocking images and disturbing themes to ring the bell of even contemporary horror fans, reviews at the time also singled out the tight script by William Peter Blatty (adapting his own novel), and a level of acting far beyond that ordinarily required for a horror movie.
Yes, The Exorcist proved that overall production values can elevate even such fearsome material to the level of art- and as such, it was not only the first horror film to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, it was nominated for no less than ten awards, including all the major categories. Blatty took home a statue for his screenplay, and the film also won the award for Sound Mixing. No horror movie would win any major Oscars until 1991’s Silence of the Lambs, which literally won them all and remains the only film in that genre to win any other than 1990’s Misery (for which Kathy Bates won Best Actress).
7. First Multimedia Star (Bing Crosby)
Today’s audiences are used to seeing mega-pop stars make forays into movies, movie stars trying to be rock stars, rock stars becoming reality TV stars, and more permutations and combinations of all of those things than we care to think about. One could argue that this really began with MGM’s cross-platform marketing of Elvis Presley in the ’50s, but then one would be forgetting about Bing Crosby– the crooner that set the standard for the modern multimedia superstar, and who did it two decades before Elvis.
Bing Crosby had a popular radio show. He dominated the popular music charts for years and years, releasing over three hundred singles. In addition, by number of tickets sold, he is the third most popular film actor of all time, even winning an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1944. Oh, and his recording of the 1941 holiday classic “White Christmas” sold a hundred million copies (the best-selling single ever; they literally had to re-record the song in 1947 because the master was worn out from pressing so many singles), has charted no less than seventeen times, and has had five hundred cover versions recorded.
6. First Purchased Spec Script (The Power and the Glory by Preston Sturges, 1933)
A spec script is simply a screenplay that has been written and peddled on a freelance basis, one that nobody commissioned. Freelance screenwriters have run the gamut from working for peanuts to getting paid like kings (Shane Black famously pissed off so many people when he sold The Long Kiss Goodnight for four million dollars that he just stopped writing for years). It’s a difficult, demanding, frustrating, yet potentially lucrative profession.
And it all began in 1933. House writer Preston Sturges, after being let go from Universal Pictures, conceived his story– a Citizen Kane prototype loosely based on C.W. Post, the founder of General Foods- in 1932, and wrote a complete shooting script rather than a “treatment” or synopsis (as is and was common practice.) His fee was $17,500 and a percentage of the back end, which proved an unfortunate decision as the film was not a raging box office success. Sturges’s screenplay, however, is revered among screenwriters, and was even novelized.
5. First 3D Film (The Power of Love, 1922)
The 1952 film Bwana Devil is often cited as the first 3D film, but it was simply the one that set off the whole craze. Several experiments with the format had seen varying (mostly poor) degrees of success for decades prior; in fact, the very first commercially released 3D feature film was exhibited in 1922. True, this could be seen as a technicality, as The Power of Love was screened all of one time in the format. This sole 3D screening took place in September of 1922 at the Ambassador Hotel Theater in Los Angeles; it was subsequently exhibited flat and under a different title, and the original version unfortunately no longer exists. The anaglyph 3D system used by the film (red and blue lenses) lives on however, as it became industry standard during the 3D explosion of the ’50s.
4. First Gold Record (“Catch a Falling Star” by Perry Como, 1958)
The Recording Industry Association of America didn’t have a standard for designating records that had reached certain sales levels until 1958. If you’d guess that this has something to do with the advent of rock and roll, you’d be correct. However, the very first gold plaque– given for sales of over 500,000- was awarded not to a rock artist, but to crooner Perry Como for his single “Catch a Falling Star,” on March 14, 1958.
While the precious metal-based award had been in the works for some time, the RIAA actually waited until the inflated sales figures caused by the unexpected arrival of Elvis tapered off before creating an objective standard. After Como’s landmark award, the next recipient was Laurie London for “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.” Only then did Elvis pick up the first of his 53 gold plaques, for “Hard Headed Woman.”
For those who are wondering, the Platinum designation (for sales over a million) wasn’t created until 1976, and was first awarded to- wait for it- the Eagles‘ Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975.
3. First Televised Baseball Game (Cincinnati Reds vs. Brooklyn Dodgers, 1939)
It may seem like baseball has been broadcast on TV since the very moment TV’s became widespread in American homes. In actuality, it – well, no, that’s absolutely correct. The very first televised game was broadcast by station W2XBS, which would eventually become WNBC, and it’s safe to say it wasn’t viewed by many. It was 1939, and there were only about 400 TV sets within the broadcast area.
The timing of the broadcast, though, is paramount- the famous 1939 World’s Fair, also held in New York, featured television as a main exhibit and the game, a doubleheader between the Cincinnati Reds and Brooklyn Dodgers, was seen as a great way to showcase the infant medium. This not only led directly to interest in (and funding of) the development of television, but piqued sports club owners’ interest in the viability of televised sports- that thing you may recognize as having made obscene amounts of money for close to a century now.
2. First (And Only) X-Rated Film To Win Best Picture (Midnight Cowboy, 1969)
What many don’t realize about the X rating is that it was not created for pornography. The original MPAA ratings- G, PG, R and X- were meant to (and did) cover a broad but easily definable spectrum between films suitable for everyone and those meant only for adults. This is what the X rating was- an “adults only” rating, much as NC-17 is today. The only reasons pornographers picked up on it is because, unlike the other three ratings, the MPAA inexplicably failed to trademark it.
Thus it was, in an era when films aimed squarely at adults were still able to reliably make a lot of money, that Midnight Cowboy became the only X-rated film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The film made stars out of Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, and is of course in no way pornographic; the sex and nudity are incredibly tame by today’s standards, and the rating was more due to “adult themes” (it has since been re-rated R for subsequent releases.) But hey- an X-rated movie won Best Picture once, so take that to the bar and win a few bets.
1. First Film Reboot (Tarzan the Ape Man, 1932)
Most people consider 2005’s Batman Begins to be the father of the rebooted franchise. Not true; it can be successfully argued that the first (very successfully) rebooted franchise was launched in 1932 with the release of Tarzan the Ape Man– a reboot of the previous series launched in 1918 with the release of Tarzan of the Apes.
In that first series, starring American actor Elmo Lincoln, two more films followed- 1918’s The Romance of Tarzan and 1921’s serial The Adventures of Tarzan. The end of the silent era likewise brought an end to the career of the film’s star, but Hollywood wasn’t done with Tarzan; Johnny Weissmuller’s 1932 version (thanks in part to Weissmuller’s famous yell that he claims to have invented himself) was much more successful, spawning no less than eleven sequels.
Of course, many more Tarzan films, live action and animated, have been made since then, and quite frankly, we’d kind of like to kick Tarzan’s ass for starting this. The next time you feel like complaining about the dozens of remakes and reboots in development at any given time, you now know who to blame.