Oscar: Best Picture–Literary Origins–Good Movies Come From……

Of all the films winning the Best Picture Oscar, only a few (six) did not get a nomination in one of the two writing categories: Best Original Screenplay or Best Adapted Screenplay.

Best Pictures without Writing Nomination

1928: The Broadway Melody (musical)

1932: Grand Hotel

1933: Cavalcade

1948: Hamlet (Shakespeare’s Play)

1965: The Sound of Music

1997: James Cameron’s Titanic

1928: Wings

Wings, the first Best Picture winner, is a romantic action-war picture rewritten by scriptwriters Hope Loring and Louis D. Lighton from a story by John Monk Saunders to accommodate Clara Bow, Paramount’s biggest star at the time. Wellman was hired as the only director at the time who had World War I combat pilot experience.

1929: The Broadway Melody


1930: All Quiet on the Western Front

The German novelist Erich Maria Remarque wrote his seminal novel, All Quiet on the Western Front (1928), about the German military experience of WWI, in 1928. Th novel, an international best-seller, created a new literary genre.

1931: Cimarron

The Oscar-winning script was written by Howard Estabrook based on the Edna Ferber novel of the same title, spanning forty years from 1889 to 1929. Ferber also provided the source material for George Stevens’ 1956 epic, Giant.

RKO’s most expensive production to date, Cimarron did not recoup its production costs during its initial run in 1931.

This Western’s win of the Best Production Oscar would be only one of two ever won by RKO.

1932: Grand Hotel

MGM producer Irving Thalberg purchased the rights to Vicki Baum’s 1929 novel, Menschen im Hotel, for $13,000 and then commissioned William A. Drake to adapt it for the stage.  It opened on Broadway at the National Theatre on November 13, 1930 and ran for 459 performances. Encouraged by its commercial success, Thalberg asked Drake and Béla Balázs write the screenplay and budgeted the project at $700,000.

1936: The Great Ziegfeld

Ziegfeld’s widow, Billie Burke, wager to pay off Ziegfeld’s debts without bankruptcy, sold the rights to a biopic to Universal in 1933.  The film went into the pre-production phase in January 1934. Macguire had initially proposed the biopic to them in the form of a “filmusical entertainment” set in a “theatrical tradition” and William Powell was cast as Ziegfeld. However, by February 1935, Macguire had financial problems at the studio, and the entire production, including some already constructed sets and musical arrangements, were sold to MGM for the huge amount of $300,000. As part of the deal, Universal retained Powell for the screwball comedy My Man Godfrey, which was released the same year as The Great Ziegfeld.

1938: You Can’t Take It With You

Robert Riskin was nominated for another Oscar for his Best Adapted Screenplay, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Columbia head, Harry Cohn had acquired the rights to the popular play in November 1937 for $300,000.

1944: Going My Way

This musical dramedy was directed by Leo McCarey, based on his story, adapted to the screen by Frank Butler and Frank Cavett, who won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar.

In a role tailor-made for him, a new young priest taking over a parish from an old veteran, Bing Crosby sings five songs.  Other songs are performed by Metropolitan Opera’s star mezzo-soprano, Risë Stevens (playing a famous Metropolitan Opera diva) and the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir (as the  juvenile delinquents who turned into a choir).

Going My Way, 1944’s highest-grossing picture, was followed the next year by a sequel, The Bells of St. Mary’s, which was also very popular.

Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, it won seven, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Crosby, who became the biggest box-office draw of the year, a record he would hold for the rest of the 1940s.

Reel/Real Impact:

After World War II, Bing Crosby and Leo McCarey presented a copy of the picture to Pope Pius XII at the Vatican.


1947: Gentleman’s Agreement

Laura Hobson’s second novel, Gentleman’s Agreement, was published by Simon & Schuster on February 27, 1947.  The story of a magazine writer who decides to research antisemitism by posing as a Jew was a worldwide success, translated into 13 languages. On April 27, 1947, it reached number one on the New York Times best seller list, where it remained for 14 weeks.  The Jewish Book Council named Gentleman’s Agreement the year’s best Jewish novel, but Hobson declined the award, which she later regretted.

The novel’s origin was an article Hobson had read in the February 14, 1944 issue of Time, which reported that John E. Rankin, Democratic congressman from Mississippi, while addressing the House of Representatives, referred to newspaper columnist Walter Winchell as “the little kike.” According to Time, Rankin was not condemned, but was enthusiastically applauded at the end of his speech. Hobson was shocked by Rankin’s remark, and by the politicians’ response. She began to wonder: “How anti-Semitic was this country, this America, these United States? Not just among the outright bigots like Congressman Rankin… but among other people, people who’d never call anybody a kike, people who said they loathed prejudice?”

The film version, directed by Kazan, was released on November 11, 1947. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, it won three, including Best Picture. The movie was a huge commercial hit, grossing $7.8 million, a figure that made it 1948’s eighth most popular film.


1955: Marty

The Oscar-winning screenplay was written by Paddy Chayefsky, expanding upon his 1953 teleplay of the same title. The script changed the name of the Waverly Ballroom to the Stardust Ballroom, and added subplots about Marty’s career, his mother and her sister.


1988: Rain Man

Rain Man was written by Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass, based on the former’s story.  Morrow created the character of Raymond (played by Dustin Hoffman) after meeting Kim Peek, a real-life savant.  The characterization was based on Peek as well as Bill Sackter, a friend of Morrow who was the subject of Bill, an earlier film that Morrow wrote.

2010: The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech received the Best Original Screenplay for David Seidler. Colin Firth plays the future King George VI who, to cope with a stammer, sees Lionel Logue, an Australian speech and language therapist (Geoffrey Rush). The men become friends as they work together, and after his brother abdicates the throne, the new king relies on Logue to help him make his first wartime radio broadcast on Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in 1939.

Seidler read about George VI’s life after overcoming stuttering during his own youth. He began writing about the relationship between the therapist and his royal patient in the 1980s, but at the request of the King’s widow, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, postponed work until her death in 2002.

He later rewrote his script for the stage, focusing on the relationship between the two men.  Then, two months before shooting began, Logue’s notebooks were discovered, enabling Seidler to incorporate quotations from them into the final script.