Tales from Tinseltown: How a small celebrity bunfight grew up into a media monster

Golden Globe winners were announced on Sunday, January 21, and handicapping now begins for the Academy Awards.

This is Hollywood's equivalent of March Madness: a nonstop barrage of newspaper, TV and trade ads, Academy member screenings, Oscar party planning and office pools. The Golden Globes have an effect on Academy voters and have become prestigious awards themselves.

It was not always so. Most people are probably unaware that there are around 90 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the organization responsible for the Golden Globe Awards. How have so few managed to do so much for so many? Great publicity.

Supposedly, HFPA members are active, Hollywood-based journalists who file entertainment stories for international media. Supposedly. In reality, I'm not sure some of these journalists are 'actively' doing anything.

Breathing, I guess. While it has gotten somewhat younger in recent years, the average age of HFPA members used to hover around 160. I'm kidding, of course. It was probably no more than 115. The HFPA is the ultimate Hollywood insider clique, riddled with secret rituals and handshakes, back-room politics and a bizarre language known only to members and residents of Mauritania.

Until the mid-1990s, the Golden Globes show was a relatively obscure, pressure-free celebrity bash broadcast on cable. Sort of a relaxed precursor to the Oscars. Show up, have a few laughs - hey, maybe take home some nice hardware.

Then Rogers & Cowan - in particular, Michael Russell - began a major publicity campaign for the event, turning it from a small desert town into a Las Vegas. I was at the agency at the time and watched Russell create a monster. We were all called upon to feed the beast, but he was the lion tamer. His calm demeanor managed to placate the orneriest of HFPA members, the crankiest of publicists, and the most demanding of stars.

The Globes almost instantly became a ratings hit on NBC. Now it's a televised worldwide spectacle, nicely filling a void before the Super Bowl and February sweeps. I was pleased the HFPA recognized a project I worked on in Australia, the miniseries On the Beach. Alas, its audience wasn't much larger than the HFPA itself. I understand why. Beach was a gripping drama, but not too many folks wanted to watch drifting nuclear fallout kill everyone in the world except for Strom Thurmond. (That is one tough old bird.)

But remember, as you watch GG winners on TV this week positioning themselves as Oscar front-runners: they were selected by fewer people than you probably had at your office Christmas eggnog social.

- Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer.

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