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Movie Fan's Guide to the Irving Thalberg Award Winners

Brian has been a big movie fan since the 1960s when he discovered the French New Wave. He's been seeing as many movies as he can ever since.

The Thalberg Award Honors Lifetime Achievement by Creative Film Producers

The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award is a prestigious lifetime achievement award that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presents periodically to film producers.

The award, established in 1937, is named for Irving Thalberg, the "boy wonder" who headed the Production Division of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer beginning at age 24. From 1924 to his untimely death in 1936, Thalberg personally supervised MGM's top movies and built the studio's reputation for sophisticated films. MGM became the premiere studio of its day and was the only Hollywood studio to consistently make a profit throughout the Great Depression.

Irving Thalberg

Irving Thalberg

According to the Academy's official description of the award, honorees are "creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” The Academy's Board of Governors selects the recipients of the award and each year has discretion whether or not to name an honoree. To date, the Thalberg Award has been presented 39 times, to 38 different individuals.

In earlier years, the winners of the Thalberg Award continued to be eligible for subsequent awards, and in fact, two honorees, Darryl F. Zanuck and Hal B. Wallis, received the award more than once. Beginning with the 1962 (35th) awards, the Board voted that no person could win multiple Thalberg Awards.

As of 2009, the Thalberg Award is presented at the annual Governors Awards dinner in November rather than at the Academy Awards ceremony where the competitive Oscars® are awarded.

The Thalberg Award trophy itself is not a traditional Oscar statuette, but rather a stylized bronze bust of Thalberg. The current version—the third—was created by sculptor Gualberto Rocchi in 1957 and first presented to William Wyler, the 1966 Thalberg Award recipient.

Here are all the winners of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, with short summaries of their careers and the work for which they were recognized. In keeping with the practice of the Academy, the year listed is the awards year, which, before 2009, is the year before the award was presented.

1937: Darryl F. Zanuck

Executive, producer, writer, director, and actor. Darryl F. Zanuck (1902–1979) enjoyed a prolific career spanning 50 years. He got his start in the movie business as a writer and sold an early story to Irving Thalberg in 1922. He was head of production for Warner Bros. for several years until 1933, when he co-founded Twentieth Century Pictures, which merged with Fox Film Corporation to become 20th Century-Fox in 1935. Three of his movies won Best Picture Oscars—How Green Was My Valley (1941), Gentleman's Agreement (1947), and All About Eve (1950)—and 12 others were nominated. Zanuck is the only person to receive three Thalberg Awards, receiving the award again in 1944 and 1950.

Darryl F. Zanuck in the trailer for "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940)

Darryl F. Zanuck in the trailer for "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940)

1938: Hal B. Wallis

Producer. Working first at Warner Bros. and later as an independent, Hal B. Wallis (1898–1986) produced almost 400 movies over his 50-year career. Nineteen of his films were nominated for Best Picture—the most nominations for any producer to date (although for some he is uncredited). His most notable movies include Best Picture winner Casablanca (1942)—for which he was uncredited, with Jack Warner accepting the Oscar—The Maltese Falcon (1941), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Becket (1964), and True Grit (1969). He also produced many successful Elvis Presley movies. He is the only person other than Darryl Zanuck to win multiple Thalberg Awards, as he won again in 1943.

1939: David O. Selznick

Producer and writer. David O. Selznick (1902–1965) worked at MGM, RKO Pictures, and Paramount Pictures before starting his own studio, Selznick International Pictures, in 1935. The studio produced many successful, classic movies. He is best known for 1939's Best Picture and multiple Oscar winner Gone With the Wind (1939). Selznick's studio won its second consecutive Best Picture Oscar for Rebecca, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, in 1940. Six more of Selznick's movies were nominated for Best Picture: Viva Villa! (1934), David Copperfield (1935), A Tale of Two Cities (1936), A Star Is Born (1938), Since You Went Away (1944), and Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945). Selznick was the executive producer of 1933's King Kong with Fay Wray, and he had another hit with Duel in the Sun (1946), starring his future wife Jennifer Jones.

David O. Selznick

David O. Selznick

1941: Walt Disney

Producer, director, screenwriter, animator, and voice actor. Walt Disney (1901–1966) is best known for his innovations in animation and for the creation of the Disneyland and Walt Disney World theme parks. He co-founded the studio Walt Disney Productions and was the original voice of his famous cartoon creation, Mickey Mouse. He holds the record for the most Academy Award nominations (59) and the most Oscar wins (22), all for short subjects and documentaries. Besides the Thalberg Award, Disney received three other honorary awards for his work in animation.

Walt Disney

Walt Disney

1942: Sidney Franklin

Director, producer, and occasional writer and actor. Sidney Franklin (1893–1972) directed some 71 movies and produced 18. Among his best known is Mrs. Miniver (1942), which won Oscars for Best Picture, Directing (William Wyler), Actress (Greer Garson), Supporting Actress (Teresa Wright), and Screenplay. It was the first Best Picture winner to get nominations in all four acting categories, as Walter Pidgeon and Henry Travers were nominated for Best Actor and Supporting Actor, respectively. As a director, Franklin's greatest success was The Good Earth (1937), for which he received a Directing nomination and for which Luise Rainer won the Oscar for Best Actress.

1943: Hal B. Wallis

Hal B. Wallis was the first two-time winner of the Thalberg Award, having previously won in 1938 (see profile above).

1944: Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck had previously won the Thalberg Award in 1937 (see profile above). He won again in 1950, making him the only three-time winner in the award's history.

1946: Samuel Goldwyn

Producer and studio executive. Samuel Goldwyn (1879–1974) got his start in the movie business in 1913 when he and several partners, including Cecil B. DeMille, formed The Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, which in 1914 produced The Squaw Man, the first feature to be filmed in Hollywood. In 1916 he set up Goldwyn Pictures Corporation, which later became part of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but only after Goldwyn had left and set up the independent Samuel Goldwyn Studio. He produced numerous films over the next 35 years, with six receiving Oscar nominations for Best Picture. In the same year that he won the Thalberg Award, his movie The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) was named Best Picture and won six other Academy Awards.