04/11/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT
The Oscar ceremony was establishment now, broadcast on radio. In 1939 Gone with the Wind became the most popular and profitable film ever. But this was also a time of war, as reflected in movies from Mrs. Miniver to The Best Years of Our Lives. Winston Churchill hailed Miniver as "propaganda worth a hundred battleships." As a wartime cost-cutting measure, the Academy ended its elaborate banquets and took the show inside a theater, where food and drink could no longer detract from the ego battles.
Barry Fitzgerald: His role as the twinkly old priest in 1944's Going My Way made him a popular winner. But at home a few days later, he forgot that wartime Oscars were made of plaster instead of bronze and decapitated his prize with a golf club.
Joan Crawford: Mommie Dearest was at home in bed with a fever—just a few photographers in attendance—when her name was called as Best Actress of 1945 for Mildred Pierce. Her press agent reported that the next day a photo of Joan in bed with Oscar "pushed all the other winners off the front page."
Gone with the Wind: Clark Gable's Rhett and Vivien Leigh's Scarlett helped the movie, then the costliest ($3,957,000) in history, to win eight Oscars, a record not broken until 1958's Gigi. Leigh was the triumphant victor, Gable the disgruntled loser. "This was my last chance," he groaned. He was right.
The Lost Weekend: The Best Picture of 1945 offered an unsparing portrait of an alcoholic by Ray Milland. "I gave it everything I had," said the actor. He must have. Accepting the Oscar, a speechless Milland simply bowed and departed.
Harold Russell: An Army vet who lost both arms in WW II, he won a 1946 supporting Oscar for playing a similar character in The Best Years of Our Lives. He now heads the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped.
Casablanca: Bogie told Ingrid Bergman that their wartime love story "didn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." Except for winning the Best Picture Oscar of 1943 and the hearts of all romantics. Play it, Sam.
Yankee Doodle Dandy: Playing George M. Cohan in 1942, James Cagney—America's favorite tough guy—became the first actor to win an Oscar for a musical. Don't forget, said Jimmy in his acceptance speech, "it was a pretty good part."
Hattie McDaniel: Miss Scarlett's maid in Gone with the Wind was the first of only three black actors to win an Oscar. Hattie shouted "Hallelujah" and sobbed on accepting her plaque (supporting players didn't receive full statues until 1943).
Kid Stuff: "Isn't it beautiful and shiny, Mr. Disney?" asked Shirley Temple of the large honorary Oscar (and seven tiny ones) he won for 1938's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Sibling Rivalry: "Of course we fight," said Olivia (Hold Back the Dawn) de Havilland, who nonetheless smiled when sister Joan (Suspicion) Fontaine won the 1941 Oscar. The Academy's first sister nominees have been rivals since.