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Essays

Hollywood Always Knew The Golden Globes Were A Joke But Legitimized Them Anyway

A shiny globe wrapped in a film reel reflects the HFPA logo and a screen promoting Golden Globe Awards.
The stage for the 79th Golden Globe Awards nominations, December 13, 2021, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
(Robyn Beck
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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As a (much) younger reporter at The Associated Press, I was dispatched to cover 1987’s Golden Globe Awards.

This was before Hollywood fully legitimized the ceremony by sending each and every A-list celebrity to the Beverly Hilton hotel and NBC started treating the Golden Globes as if it were the Academy Awards. That year’s Golden Globes was hosted by Cheryl Ladd and William Shatner, and I was assigned a seat at table No. 1, right below the podium and right between “Dynasty” star Joan Collins and James Woods, nominated for the miniseries “Promise.”

Even as a neophyte journalist, I recognized that spending three hours with rubber chicken between Collins and Woods in a clearly frivolous ceremony — Paul Hogan would win for best comic actor for “Crocodile Dundee” and Farrah Fawcett was nominated for both the film “Extremities” and the television movie “Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story” that year — was going to be unbearable.

So I picked up my personalized place card, removed my bow tie, and retreated to the press room backstage, where I could live snark the Golden Globes along with the other reporters in attendance, with occasional cocktail runs to the hotel’s Trader Vic’s bar.

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We all knew the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and its annual awards show was a joke. Just five years earlier in a singularly defining moment, the HFPA had named Pia Zadora its “new star of the year,” following a Las Vegas junket for Golden Globes voters hosted by Zadora’s husband, Meshulam Riklis. But we had orders to cover the ceremony as if it mattered.

And so we did. With allies in the media and throughout Hollywood, the Golden Globes grew exponentially.

Until now.

Following a series of devastating Los Angeles Times reports about the HFPA’s financial self-dealing and lack of a single Black voter early last year, NBC will not broadcast Sunday night's Golden Globes. But that didn’t deter the HFPA.

Even though not a single celebrity is expected to attend as a nominee, presenter or guest, the Golden Globe ceremony will go on anyway, creating an embarrassing update to the Zen kōan: the sound of no hands clapping.

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That the Golden Globes have been muzzled is not notable; it was long overdue. That they ever had a voice to begin with is far more significant.

The town coddled up to the HFPA the way distant relatives might try to gain favor with a dying millionaire: yes it might be unctuous, but imagine the payoff!

I’m fond of saying that Hollywood’s moral compass points in one direction: toward the bank. Everyone in the industry knows the Golden Globes are awarded by an undistinguished group of 90-odd voters (emphasis on odd) who are prone not only to take/demand celebrity selfies but also host unprofessional news conferences. Scarlett Johansson said she boycotts HFPA interviews because of “sexist questions and remarks by certain HFPA members that bordered on sexual harassment.”

And just like that, Hollywood had convinced itself that Golden Globe exposure — buoyed by NBC’s broadcast, with more viewers than the Emmys — outweighed the HFPA’s suspect principles. The town looked the other way because the awards helped their movies sell more tickets.

Plus, it was a fun night, with far less formality (and pressure) than the Oscars. So the town coddled up to the HFPA the way distant relatives might try to gain favor with a dying millionaire: yes it might be unctuous, but imagine the payoff!

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In the nanoseconds following the HFPA's annual nominations announcement, a panic of publicists (is there a better term for a group?) would work the phones, offering up all manner of performers to discuss how thrilled they were to have been shortlisted.

As more celebrities attended the show — selfishly believing that the Golden Globes could somehow influence the Academy Awards — its television audience grew, and the beast that the studios, networks and streamers helped create required more and more feeding.

Once the ceremony started, there was no hiding its marginality. The show's hosts made sure of that:

Tina Fey, Golden Globes 2021:

“The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is made up of around 90 international, no-Black journalists. We say ‘around 90’ because a couple of them might be ghosts and it’s rumored that the German member is just a sausage that somebody drew a little face on.”
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Ricky Gervais, Golden Globes 2012:

"For any of you who don't know, the Golden Globes are just like the Oscars, but without all that esteem. The Golden Globes are to the Oscars what Kim Kardashian is to Kate Middleton: A bit louder, a bit trashier, a bit drunker and more easily bought — allegedly. Nothing’s been proved."

Of course the media helped perpetuate the charade.

While covering Hollywood for the Los Angeles Times, my editors and I would discuss the Golden Globes’ illegitimacy, and possible stories to prove it. But when the nominations and awards were announced, any Golden Globe doubts were cast aside, and numerous staff and pages were devoted to coverage. (The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. has a charitable arm whose beneficiaries include Southern California Public Radio.)

In the wake of the L.A. Times stories and the NBC broadcast boycott (which the network says is not permanent), the HFPA has hired a chief diversity officer and added 21 new members, six of whom are Black. HFPA president Helen Hoehne said late last year that the organization will have “diversity and inclusion at its core [and] ethical conduct as the norm.”

The one thing that won't change: HFPA voters will continue to include the kind of people who write a few articles a year for some Armenian magazine that not even Armenians have heard of.

Will Hollywood return to the Golden Globes in force? The odds look slim. Already, another awards group, the Critics Choice Awards, is trying to displace the Golden Globes. But even if that organization has its own ethical shortcomings (one top Critics Choice voter has told me he gladly accepts all-expenses-paid junkets), don’t expect the industry to get all high and mighty.

It had decades to do the same with the Golden Globes, and just held its nose.

What questions do you have about film, TV, music, or arts and entertainment?
John Horn covers the business of entertainment, examining what's next for Hollywood post pandemic.