This Week in Movie History is Atom Insider’s column looking back at all the important events, biggest moments, and weird, fun trivia that happened in Hollywood history every week.

April 13

1964 – Sidney Poitier becomes the first black actor to win an Academy Award for acting

The legendary actor made strides his entire life for black actors in Hollywood. After joining the North American Negro Theatre, he finally landed his first breakthrough role as a troubled high school student in 1955’s Blackboard Jungle. Three years later, he received his first nomination for Best Actor for starring with Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones as two convicts chained together who must learn to work together to escape. Poitier’s nomination was the first time a black actor had ever been nominated for that Oscar category. Finally, in 1964, Poitier finally won the first ever Best Actor Academy Award by a black actor for his role in Lilies of the Field, where he played a handyman who lived with a group of German nuns and helped them raise a chapel. He also won the Golden Globe that year for Best Actor. And in 1967, he was the top-grossing star in the U.S., making three groundbreaking films that explored themes of race and race relations: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night and To Sir, with Love.

1994 – Asteroid 7373 Takei discovered and named after Star Trek actor George Takei

Birthdays: Ron Perlman (1950), Jonathan Brandis (1976), Allison Williams (1988)

April 14

1894 – The first commercial picture house was opened

Though Thomas Edison wasn’t the first to put out a patent for an early Kinetoscope, a machine that used roll film with a high speed shutter and light source to create the illusion of a moving picture (that would be Louis le Prince), Edison’s team certainly popularized it. Scottish-American inventor William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson, who worked for Edison, formed a team that perfected Kinetoscope technology.

After working on it for years, experimenting with things like celluloid film strips and how to get sound to sync up with motion, the Kinetoscope was ready for a public unveiling. It was first shown to the public at Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences on May 9, 1893, and almost a year later, a public Kinetoscope parlor was opened by the Holland Bros. in New York City at 1155 Broadway. It became the world’s first commercial picture house. At the time, the venue had ten Kinetoscope machines set up in rows of five. For 25 cents, a viewer could watch all the films in a single row; for 50 cents, they could watch all ten. Those first ten films were Barber ShopBertoldi (mouth support) & Bertoldi (table contortion), about the English vaudeville contortionist Ena Bertoldi, BlacksmithsRoosters (a cock fight), Highland DanceHorse ShoeingSandow (about German strongman Eugen Sandow), Trapeze, and Wrestling. And suddenly, movies were born.

1969 – First ever tie for Best Actress at the Academy Awards

At the 41st Academy Awards, two actresses had the rare honor of being tied for the Best Actress win: Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter and Barbara Streisand for Funny Girl. Hepburn became the third performer to win consecutive acting awards (she won Best Actress the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner), and the first to win three awards for lead roles (her last Oscar came in 1982 for On Golden Pond). As for Streisand, she won one more Oscar in 1977, but not for acting. Instead, she won it for Best Original Song for A Star is Born.

Birthdays: Peter Capaldi (1958), Brad Garrett (1960), Robert Carlyle (1961), Adrien Brody (1973), Sarah Michelle Gellar (1977)

April 15

Various years – Eight different TV stations begin broadcasting on this day

In a weird twist of fate, April 15 seemed to be the most popular day to launch TV stations. Eight different ones began broadcasting in six different years (two different years two began on the same day). Those stations were

  • 1948 – KCPX in Salt Lake City, UT (ABC)
  • 1953 – WHP in Harrisburg, PA (CBS)
  • 1954 – KARK in Little Rock, AR (NBC) and WHO in Des Moines, IA (NBC)
  • 1957 – KTVI in Saint Louis, MO (ABC)
  • 1966 – KHET in Honolulu, HI (PBS)
  • 1970 – WMGZ in Mayaguez, PR ([M]) and WPSJ in Ponce, PR ([P])

1992 – Jay Leno’s final appearance as the permanent host of The Tonight Show

Birthdays: Elizabeth Montgomery (1933), Emma Thompson (1959), Peter Billingsley (1972), Seth Rogen (1982), Emma Watson (1990), Maisie Williams (1997)

April 16

1787 – The first-ever American comedy debuts in NYC

Satirical play The Contrast, written by playwright and humorist Royall Tyler, made its debut in New York City on this day. Written in the tradition of the English Restoration comedies of the century before, it was meant to satirize and poke fun at American citizens who fanatically followed British fashion and indulged in their culture. With its debut, it became the first-ever American comedy that was professionally produced and introduced the stock character of the Yankee.

1889 – Charlie Chaplin was born in London, England

Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin, KBE – or, as we know him, simply Charlie Chaplin – was one of the most gifted actors and comedians ever to grace the stage and screen. Born in Victorian-era London into a life of poverty and hardship, he was sent to the workhouse twice before he was nine years old. When he was 14, his mother was committed to a mental asylum and Chaplin started performing in order to make ends meet. At age 19, he got his big break and was signed to the Fred Karno Company, which sent him to America. Chaplin made his cinema debut in 1914 in his now-classic Keystone comedies, perfecting the role of the Tramp that made him famous and by 1918 he was one of the most recognizable figures in the world.

Charlie Chaplin as the Tramp and a normal headshot of Chaplin

In 1919, he made a power move, co-founding United Artists and giving himself complete control over his films. A perfectionist who knew exactly what he wanted, Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in, and composed the music for most of his films. In the 1930s, he was one of the last holdouts to move to talkies, making a few more silent pictures, instead. His first talkie, The Great Dictator (1940) satirized Adolph Hitler more than a year and a half before the United States officially entered the war. To this day, his work continues to influence comedians and his legacy as an artist remains unmoved.

Birthdays: Ellen Barkin (1954), Jon Cryer (1965), Martin Lawrence (1965), Sean Maher (1975), Claire Foy (1984)

April 17

1961 – Jimmy Stewart accepts Oscar on behalf of friend Gary Cooper

Gary Cooper was a towering figure in Hollywood, friends with luminaries like Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and famous actors. But after years of battling various forms of cancer, in February 1961, Cooper learned that the cancer had become inoperable and untreatable, spreading to his lungs and bones. As an avid outdoorsman and a strapping figure on screen, Cooper and his family decided to keep news of his illness mostly quiet – only a few people knew.

One of those people was Cooper’s friend, Jimmy Stewart, who had the honor of presenting Cooper with a lifetime achievement award at that year’s Oscars, and the unenviable task of being the man who informed the world that the beloved Cooper was dying. Coincidentally, it was Stewart who also presented Cooper with his first Academy Award in 1953. Stewart’s tearful tribute is one of the most poignant moments in the history of the Academy Awards. Choking back tears, Stewart told his friend, who was watching at home, “Coop, I’ll get this to you right away. And Coop, I want you to know this, that with this goes all the warm friendship and the affection and the admiration and the deep, the deep respect of all of us. We’re very, very proud of you, Coop. All of us are tremendously proud.”

2011 – Game of Thrones premieres on HBO

Birthdays: Daffy Duck (1937), David Bradley (1942), Sean Bean (1959), Jennifer Garner (1972)

April 18

2015 – Black Panther becomes first commercial film shown in 35 years in Saudi Arabia

The Grand Mosque seizure by insurgents at the end of 1979 prompted Saudi King Khalid to implement even stricter Shariah law in the next few years. During the fundamentalist Islamic revival movement of the 1980s, public movie theaters all over Saudi Arabia were closed in response and from 1983 to 2018, there were no public cinemas open in the entire country because of conservative rule.

But in 2018, as part of the country’s Saudi Vision 2030 initiative, restrictions loosened and cinemas were allowed to open and be constructed for the first time in three and a half decades. The first cinema opened back up on April 18 in Riyadh and Black Panther was the first public film screening, playing for five days in a 620-seat theater.

1956 – American movie star Grace Kelly marries Prince Rainier III of Monaco

Birthdays: Hayley Mills (1946), James Woods (1947), Rick Moranis (1953), Eric Roberts (1956), Conan O’Brien (1963), Eric McCormack (1963), David Tennant (1971), Eli Roth (1972), Melissa Joan Hart (1976), America Ferrera (1984)


April 19

1927 – Actress Mae West is found guilty of “obscenity and corrupting the morals of youth”

Mae West, the famously sultry starlet of the silver screen, got her start in Hollywood in the most Mae West of ways. For starring in a stage play in New York titled Sex, she was charged with and found guilty of “obscenity and corrupting the morals of youth.” Religious and public figures, as well as regular citizens, protested the racy posters promoting “Sex with Mae West.” Police eventually shut the production down and arrested her. She was fined $500 and sentenced to 10 days in prison, no small thing at the time. But she gained so much publicity for it that it effectively launched her film career, making her one of the most bankable stars of Old Hollywood.

During her Hollywood career, West continued to use her blunt and unapologetic sexuality to build a reputation as a rule-breaker and sex symbol and her influence was legendary. Decades later, Madonna would base plenty of her image and brand on Mae West.

1971 – Charles Manson is sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Sharon Tate

Birthdays: Dick Sargent (1930), Tim Curry (1946), Ashley Judd (1968), James Franco (1978), Kate Hudson (1979), Hayden Christensen (1981), Ali Wong (1982), Simu Liu (1989)

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