James Cruze

QUESTION:  How many actual silent films won the Academy Award for Best Picture?
A)  Zero
B)  One
C)  Two
D)  Five

James Cruze was a movie director during the silent film era. He was also a highly-accomplished actor. I guess you could call him a George Clooney-type of his day, although he never performed in television situation comedies like Facts of Life  or Roseanne like Clooney did. To be fair, though, television did not exist for most of the silent film era.  Cruze was born in Ogden, Utah in 1884.  His birth name was Jens Vera Cruz Bosen, and his middle name honored the Mexican War battle of Veracruz that began the final campaign on Mexico City and led to the United States taking control of California and territories in the southwest. This victory must have had a great affect on James' parents! Little is known about his childhood in Utah because James was a consummate storyteller, and he told different ones in each interview he gave. But the gist of his story is that he grew up on a farm, a member of the Ute tribe.  He disliked farming so much that he ran away, joined a roaming medicine show for a time selling snake oil, and winding up in the early film industry. 

By his 26th birthday, he was working for the Lubin Manufacturing Company, headquartered in Philadelphia as an actor.  Then he moved to another studio, then another. During a career spanning twenty-seven years, Cruze directed and/or starred in well over one hundred movies. He became one of the highest-paid directors of the silent era, reputed for having wild parties. Some of his films were considered classics, including 1923's The Covered Wagon and The Great Gabbo in 1929, although he had his flops, too, like 1925's Pony Express.   Cruze passed away in 1942 at the age of 58.

ANSWER:  A)  Zero.  We know this may not sound right to die-hard Academy Award fans, so bear with us. 1929 was the only year a non-talkie ever won the award. The Artist won in 2012, but there was talking in it, even if it was minimal. In 1929, though, there was no "Best Picture" category. Wings won for Outstanding Picture, and Sunrise won for Unique and Artistic Picture, considered of equal prestige at the time. The next year, Broadway Melody garnered Outstanding Picture, but Unique and Artistic was no longer a category. By proxy, it became what we now call the Best Picture. A technicality, maybe, but everyone loves focusing on technicalities once in a while. So there it is.