1939 Oscars 11th Academy Awards

1939 Oscars 11th Academy Awards

  • The 11th Academy Awards unfolded on February 23, 1939, hosted at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, California.
  • A distinctive feature of this year’s ceremony was the lack of a formal host.
  • Movies released in 1938 were eligible for these honors.

Noteworthy Moments:

  • You Can’t Take It With You clinched the Best Picture award. Directed by Frank Capra, the film is a comedy about a wealthy man’s son who falls in love with a woman from a quirky family.
  • Spencer Tracy received his second Best Actor Oscar for his role in Boys Town.
  • You Can’t Take It With You earned 7 nominations.
  • This was the first ceremony in which a foreign language film (Grand Illusion) was nominated for Best Picture.
  • Bette Davis won the Best Actress award for her role in Jezebel, a drama about a wilful southern belle.
  • This ceremony reflected a growing maturity in the film industry, with increasingly complex narratives and character-driven stories taking center stage. The awards also signaled a move toward greater inclusivity, with a wider range of genres and themes gaining recognition.


  1. Frank Capra, winning for Best Director, also served as the President of the Academy at the time.
  2. Jezebel was conceived as a consolation for Bette Davis after she lost the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind.
  3. Walt Disney’s Ferdinand the Bull won for Best Animated Short, adding to Disney’s growing collection of Oscars.
  4. This year saw the introduction of the category for Best Special Effects, with the first winner being Spawn of the North.

1939 Oscar Nominees and Winners

Outstanding Production:
You Can’t Take It with You – Frank Capra for Columbia (WINNER)
The Adventures of Robin Hood – Hal B. Wallis and Henry Blanke for Warner Bros.
Alexander’s Ragtime Band – Darryl F. Zanuck and Harry Joe Brown for 20th Century Fox
Boys Town – John W. Considine, Jr. for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
The Citadel – Victor Saville for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Four Daughters – Hal B. Wallis and Henry Blanke for Warner Bros. and First National
Grand Illusion – Frank Rollmer and Albert Pinkovitch for R. A. C. and World Pictures
Jezebel – Hal B. Wallis and Henry Blanke for Warner Bros.
Pygmalion – Gabriel Pascal for Pascal Film Productions
Test Pilot – Louis D. Lighton for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Best Director:
Frank Capra – You Can’t Take It with You (WINNER)
Michael Curtiz – Angels with Dirty Faces
Norman Taurog – Boys Town
King Vidor – The Citadel
Michael Curtiz – Four Daughters
Best Actor:
Spencer Tracy – Boys Town as Father Flanagan (WINNER)
Charles Boyer – Algiers as Pepe le Moko
James Cagney – Angels with Dirty Faces as William “Rocky” Sullivan
Robert Donat – The Citadel as Dr. Andrew Manson
Leslie Howard – Pygmalion as Professor Henry Higgins
Best Actress:
Bette Davis – Jezebel as Julie Marsden (WINNER)
Fay Bainter – White Banners as Hannah Parmalee
Wendy Hiller – Pygmalion as Eliza Doolittle
Norma Shearer – Marie Antoinette as Marie Antoinette
Margaret Sullavan – Three Comrades as Patricia Hollmann
Best Supporting Actor:
Walter Brennan – Kentucky as Peter Goodwin (WINNER)
John Garfield – Four Daughters as Mickey Borden
Gene Lockhart – Algiers as Regis
Robert Morley – Marie Antoinette as King Louis XVI
Basil Rathbone – If I Were King as King Louis XI
Best Supporting Actress:
Fay Bainter – Jezebel as Aunt Belle Massey (WINNER)
Beulah Bondi – Of Human Hearts as Mary Wilkins
Billie Burke – Merrily We Live as Emily Kilbourne
Spring Byington – You Can’t Take It with You as Penelope “Penny” Sycamore
Miliza Korjus – The Great Waltz as Carla Donner
Best Original Story:
Boys Town – Eleanore Griffin and Dore Schary (WINNER)
Alexander’s Ragtime Band – Irving Berlin
Angels with Dirty Faces – Rowland Brown
Blockade – John Howard Lawson
Mad About Music – Marcella Burke and Frederick Kohner
Test Pilot – Frank Wead
Best Screenplay:
Pygmalion – George Bernard Shaw, Ian Dalrymple, Cecil Lewis, and W. P. Lipscomb, based on the play by Shaw (WINNER)
Boys Town – John Meehan and Dore Schary, based on a story by Schary and Eleanore Griffin
The Citadel – Ian Dalrymple, Elizabeth Hill and Frank Wead, based on the novel by A. J. Cronin
Four Daughters – Lenore Coffee and Julius J. Epstein, based on the short story “Sister Act” by Fannie Hurst
You Can’t Take It with You – Robert Riskin, based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Best Live Action Short Subject, One-Reel:
That Mothers Might Live – MGM (WINNER)
The Great Heart – MGM
Timber Toppers – 20th Century Fox
Best Live Action Short Subject, Two-Reel:
Declaration of Independence – Warner Bros. (WINNER)
Swingtime in the Movies – Warner Bros.
They’re Always Caught – MGM
Best Short Subject, Cartoon:
Ferdinand the Bull – Walt Disney Productions and RKO Radio (WINNER)
Brave Little Tailor – Walt Disney Productions and RKO Radio
Good Scouts – Walt Disney Productions and RKO Radio
Hunky and Spunky – Paramount
Mother Goose Goes Hollywood – Walt Disney Productions and RKO Radio
Best Original Score:
The Adventures of Robin Hood – Erich Wolfgang Korngold (WINNER)
Army Girl – Victor Young
Block-Heads – Marvin Hatley
Blockade – Werner Janssen
Breaking the Ice – Victor Young
The Cowboy and the Lady – Alfred Newman
If I Were King – Richard Hageman
Marie Antoinette – Herbert Stothart
Pacific Liner – Russell Bennett
Suez – Louis Silvers
The Young in Heart – Franz Waxman
Best Scoring:
Alexander’s Ragtime Band – Alfred Newman (WINNER)
Carefree – Victor Baravalle
Girls’ School – Morris Stoloff and Gregory Stone
The Goldwyn Follies – Alfred Newman
Jezebel – Max Steiner
Mad About Music – Charles Previn and Frank Skinner
Storm Over Bengal – Cy Feuer
Sweethearts – Herbert Stothart
There Goes My Heart – Marvin Hatley
Tropic Holiday – Boris Morros
The Young in Heart – Franz Waxman
Best Song:
“Thanks for the Memory” from The Big Broadcast of 1938 – Music by Ralph Rainger; Lyrics by Leo Robin (WINNER)
“Always and Always” from Mannequin – Music by Edward Ward; Lyrics by Chet Forrest and Bob Wright
“Change Partners” from Carefree – Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
“The Cowboy and the Lady” from The Cowboy and the Lady – Music by Lionel Newman; Lyrics by Arthur Quenzer
“Dust” from Under Western Stars – Music and Lyrics by Johnny Marvin
“Jeepers Creepers” from Going Places – Music by Harry Warren; Lyrics by Johnny Mercer
“Merrily We Live” from Merrily We Live – Music by Phil Charig; Lyrics by Arthur Quenzer
“A Mist Over the Moon” from The Lady Objects – Music by Ben Oakland; Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
“My Own” from That Certain Age – Music by Jimmy McHugh; Lyrics by Harold Adamson
“Now It Can Be Told” from Alexander’s Ragtime Band – Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Best Sound Recording:
The Cowboy and the Lady – Thomas T. Moulton (WINNER)
Army Girl – Charles L. Lootens
Four Daughters – Nathan Levinson
If I Were King – Loren L. Ryder
Merrily We Live – Elmer Raguse
Suez – Edmund H. Hansen
Sweethearts – Douglas Shearer
That Certain Age – Bernard B. Brown
Vivacious Lady – John O. Aalberg
You Can’t Take It with You – John P. Livadary
Best Art Direction:
The Adventures of Robin Hood – Carl Jules Weyl (WINNER)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Lyle R. Wheeler
Alexander’s Ragtime Band – Bernard Herzbrun and Boris Leven
Algiers – Alexander Toluboff
Carefree – Van Nest Polglase
The Goldwyn Follies – Richard Day
Holiday – Stephen Goosson and Lionel Banks
If I Were King – Hans Dreier and John B. Goodman
Mad About Music – Jack Otterson
Marie Antoinette – Cedric Gibbons
Merrily We Live – Charles D. Hall
Best Cinematography:
The Great Waltz – Joseph Ruttenberg (WINNER)
Algiers – James Wong Howe
Army Girl – Ernest Miller and Harry J. Wild
The Buccaneer – Victor Milner
Jezebel – Ernest Haller
Mad About Music – Joseph Valentine
Merrily We Live – Norbert Brodine
Suez – Peverell Marley
Vivacious Lady – Robert De Grasse
You Can’t Take It with You – Joseph Walker
The Young in Heart – Leon Shamroy
Best Film Editing:
The Adventures of Robin Hood – Ralph Dawson (WINNER)
Alexander’s Ragtime Band – Barbara McLean
The Great Waltz – Tom Held
Test Pilot – Tom Held
You Can’t Take It with You – Gene Havlick

Academy Honorary Awards:
J. Arthur Ball “for his outstanding contributions to the advancement of color in Motion Picture Photography.” (Scroll)

Walt Disney “for creating Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs , recognized as a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field for the motion picture cartoon.” (The prize was one full sized statuette and seven miniature statuettes, representing the Seven Dwarfs.)

Gordon Jennings, Jan Domela, Dev Jennings, Irmin Roberts, Art Smith, Farciot Edouart, Loyal Griggs, Loren L. Ryder, Harry D. Mills, Louis H. Mesenkop, and Walter Oberst “for outstanding achievement in creating Special Photographic and Sound Effects in the Paramount production, Spawn of the North.” (Plaque)

Oliver Marsh and Allen Davey “for the color cinematography of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production, Sweethearts.” (Plaque)

Harry M. Warner “in recognition of patriotic service in the production of historical short subjects presenting significant episodes in the early struggle of the American people for liberty.” (Scroll)

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