Issue: Winter 2017

The Golden Globes at 75

This January 7, Late Night host Seth Meyers will be waiting nervously in the wings before he gets the signal to step on stage and welcome the world to the Golden Globes ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

It will be the first time the former SNL alum has hosted the event, and as well as a celebrity-filled audience in the room, millions will be watching the broadcast on NBC. Finally, to add that little extra soupçon of pressure, this is also the 75th anniversary of the Golden Globes.

It’s always a big night for Hollywood and all the lucky nominees, but who exactly are the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) that every winner will thank, and why is this glittering ceremony so high-profile, yet so often linked to whispers of scandal?

The Golden Globes is perhaps only second to the Oscars in terms of its influence. Pundits, cinephiles and studio executives alike will scour the list of winners and wonder whether they will be mirrored on the list of nominees for the Academy Awards, which occur a few weeks later.

Either way a Golden Globe win can give a movie a cash boost at the box office (or bring it back into the minds of voters if it came out months ago), but more important than that is the fact that only the Golden Globes and the Oscars are broadcast on free-to-air television, which means countless moviegoers and DVD buyers are watching too.

It’s also true to say that the Golden Globes ceremony is considered by the industry, the press and the general public to be more fun. It takes place during a big dinner where the champagne flows freely, which means that the crowd is often jolly and loose, and the winners are more likely to say something devilish.

Compare that with Oscars, which are notoriously food and drink-free, hence the need for all the well-dressed seat-fillers to fill in the gaps while hungry stars pop to the bathroom, sneak a handful of trail mix, or neck a nip of something uplifting during the commercial breaks.

Perhaps the most surprising fact about the HFPA is that there are only around 90 members – mainly journalists and some photographers from over 50 countries – which means that in order to be a Golden Globe winner, a nominee only has to secure barely a couple dozen votes.

Their Southern California-based members are from drawn from major and minor publications, though the output of some can seem less than prolific bearing in mind the hundreds of events, screenings, interview and meet-and-greet opportunities they have with actors and directors – though the pictures of those encounters are a famous, well-publicized perk.

Nevertheless, membership of the HFPA is much-desired by many, and is tough to acquire. Fellow members from the same country can veto your application, and two current members have to support you; they also only accept a handful of new members every year.

Formed in 1943 as the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association (HFCA), the organization was designed to formalize a relationship with the studios, who often failed to look overseas to foreign markets, and to give those journalists a chance to get copy or photos of the stars.

The inaugural Golden Globe awards in over an informal lunch at 20th Century Fox Studios in 1944, and over the years the event has taken place at a number of hotspots across town including the Roosevelt Hotel, the Ambassador Hotel and even Ciro’s nightclub, with the special award for “Extraordinary Achievement in the Motion Picture Industry” created in 1952 and named after its first recipient, Cecil B. DeMille.

There was as controversial split in the ranks barely 10 years after the Association was formed when a group withdrew from the HFCA as a protest against the number of non-professional journalists on the books, and for several years their Foreign Press Association of Hollywood (FPAH) handed out their own “Henrietta” awards.

Things were patched up by 1955 when they merged to form the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, but there have been other sticky moments over the years too.

As a non-profit, the HFPA relies heavily on the television licensing fees (estimated to be around $10m per year), and some head-scratching nominations of actors/actresses that were otherwise ignored by many of other award panels has made some wonder whether they were picked more for their audience appeal rather than their performance.

Past Golden Globe ceremony hosts – Ricky Gervais infamously comes to mind – have even joked about a seeming veil of secrecy, the advanced age of many HFPA members, and how they can appear to get rather star-struck by the glitz and glamour.

Director Rob Reiner and actor Gary Oldman have even gone public with criticisms that others only whisper, and it will be interesting if Oldman is nominated for his much-praised performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour – it would be his first nod from the HFPA.

More hidden in the shadows are allegations of expensive trips and lavish gifts given to members – surely with the idea of garnering their votes comes Globes time – and this was most notoriously exposed in the 1982 award of the now-defunct “Star of the Year” to Pia Zadora.

Her performance in Butterfly had been universally-derided, but she still went home a winner – doubtless thanks to the Las Vegas weekend HFPA members had spent with producer Meshulam Riklis (who was married to Zadora at the time).

More seriously, in 2013 the HFPA settled a $2m lawsuit with Michael Russell, who was the organization’s publicist for 17 years and used the word “payola” when he claimed he had been fired for attempting to tackle corruption within their ranks.

In more recent years the HFPA has cracked down on such actions and put more focus on its charitable work, which includes restoration of classic movies and the donation of nearly $30 million in the last few decades to entertainment-related charities, scholarships, grants and other programs.

Either way, while we may not know much about what goes on behind the doors of the grand mock Tudor HFPA building in West Hollywood, many millions will still tune in to see which lucky names are in the envelope at their diamond anniversary – and hope for a revealing joke or three from Seth Meyers. DH