How Ryan Murphy recreated the 1948 Oscars for Hollywood
Warning: This article contains spoilers about the series finale of Hollywood.
For Feud: Bette and Joan, he famously recreated the 1963 Academy Awards. But when it comes to his new Netflix limited series Hollywood, he steps even further back in time to bring to life the 1948 ceremony — with a twist.
While the real ceremony was known for being a night of upsets, particularly with Loretta Young winning Best Actress for The Farmer's Daughter, Murphy and company take things a step further. At their version of the Oscars, Asian-American actress Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec) wins Best Supporting Actress, black actress Camille Washington (Laura Harrier) wins Best Actress, black screenwriter Archie Coleman (Jeremy Pope) wins Best Screenplay, and half-Asian director Raymond Ainsley (Darren Criss) wins Best Director.
"It was one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history when Loretta Young won," Murphy notes. "So I liked that we had an even bigger upset." The characters make history left and right, all the while breaking barriers by proudly walking the red carpet openly in interracial and gay relationships — something that would have been career suicide in 1948.
Still, despite his rewriting of Oscar history, Murphy is nothing but a stickler for details when it comes to production design. The ceremony took place at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium, and though they shot on location, the Hollywood team had to work some real magic to convert the structure to what it looked like back then.
In 1948, the Oscars were not televised, so the team had to rely on a mix of photographs and archival recordings of a live radio broadcast to get everything just right. "That was the year where it was one of my favorite Oscar sets — everything was cream and all of the women, in sort of this Charles James fantasy, wore sherbet-colored dresses," Murphy explains. "There were a lot of pinks and greens. At first, we only had black-and-white photographs. But then I found some color photographs. I always knew that the show was going to culminate in that Oscars, so we spent three months researching. We recreated as best we could what the green room looked like. We were very fastidious about that set because there were so many photographs of that."
Some of the other hurdles included finding the rare angle inside the auditorium that was preserved to its 1948 status and making fake statuettes, which they then destroyed within five hours of filming at the request of the Academy.
In addition to the technical precision required, the episode also brought an enormous emotional component, giving these marginalized characters their happy endings. "It is sort of the American Dream to win that," Murphy details. "The Academy Awards have historically proved to be things that break down barriers in this country. Hollywood at its best teaches you how to walk, how to have a relationship, how to fall in love, who to accept, who to befriend, who to root for, and who to root against. The Oscar telecast has all of that stuff infused into it."
Bringing this moment to life hit the entire team in a way Murphy said he wasn't accustomed to seeing on set. "The crew went bananas," he says. "They were crying; they were cheering. Particularly the Rock [Hudson], Anna May Wong, and Hattie McDaniel stuff because those were real people who had been denied the ability to be the best of themselves. The tears that those actors were shedding [were real]."
For Murphy, there was no other way to end this series but to right the wrongs dealt to the marginalized communities of Hollywood. "[The Oscars] are a celebration of human spirit," he reflects. "And I feel like the biggest tragedy in life is wasted potential. So to have people win like Anna May Wong, to give her a happy ending; to give Rock Hudson a happy ending; to give Hattie McDaniel a happy ending is a very emotional thing."
One could almost call it a Hollywood ending. Hollywood is now streaming on Netflix.