The Agony and Ecstasy

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Robert W. Welkos is a Times staff writer

“What I like about this particular award is that it doesn’t come from our peer group. The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. is a very loose group of guys and gals. You almost feel you could go out and have fun with them because they don’t have as much to lose as we do.”

--Jack Nicholson at the 1999 Golden Globes


To paraphrase Professor Higgins, why can’t the Academy Awards be more like the Golden Globes?

The Oscars are Hollywood’s biggest event, an evening when the film industry honors the year’s best achievements of people working before and behind the camera.


But despite Billy Crystal’s brilliant opening sketches, the gowns and an occasional streaker, to many viewers the Academy Awards often seem stuffy, pretentious and boring for long stretches of time--a sea of unfamiliar faces who trot happily up to the microphone to thank people no one ever heard of during their 15 seconds of fame.

By comparison, the Globes are all about celebrities and, as a result, they have emerged in the past two years as the hottest ticket in Hollywood--a giant party that a nationwide TV audience gets to eavesdrop on, where the unpredictable is almost certain to happen at any given moment. Ratings for the show have hit new records in the past few years.

“I wasn’t around Hollywood in the old days,” said producer Brian Grazer (“Apollo 13”), “but I think of the Golden Globes as the way we all imagined Hollywood was back then. It has a romantic quality about it.”

All of which raises another question: Why doesn’t the academy do things like the Globes?

Academy President Bob Rehme said the Oscars have always been much more than a showcase of celebrities like the Golden Globes.

“It’s fun to see a lot of stars roaming around at a party, looking to see what she’s wearing or who he’s with, but that is not what this show is about,” Rehme said. “We are celebrating motion picture making. We are not going to change that to make the show more fun.

“I love the Tony Awards, but I’m not going to copy the Tonys. I also love the Emmys, but I’m not going to copy the Emmys.”


But can the Oscars learn anything from the Globes?

The two shows are, in many respects, as different as night and day.

Take the Oscars.

While the Globes have a dinner setting with more parties to follow upstairs at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the Oscars are usually held at the 5,000-seat Shrine Auditorium or, this year, at the 2,500-seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center, where theater-like seating prevents people from freely mingling as they do at the Golden Globes.

Pat Kingsley, the publicist for Tom Cruise and many other top stars, said just sitting through the Oscars isn’t fun for the movie stars.

“You are asked to sit in those seats for three hours, and there is not much to do during the commercial breaks--and there are lots of commercial breaks,” Kingsley said.

At the Golden Globes, which take place in a ballroom of the Beverly Hilton, the commercial breaks give the celebrities a chance to table-hop and chat with friends they haven’t seen in a while.

Then the Oscars are so “tension-packed,” Kingsley said. “And they have so many awards. At the Golden Globes, they go right into presenting the awards--and they don’t have entertainment.”

Helmut Voss, a German journalist who heads the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., which runs the Globes, says one word sums up his show’s allure for the stars: schmoozing.


“I went to one table and there was Holly Hunter, and Sharon Stone was crouching down and they were having an intense conversation,” Voss said.

“The Golden Globes is one of the best parties in Hollywood,” said Tom Sherak, chairman of 20th Domestic Film Group at 20th Century Fox. “It’s all about putting celebrities--the beautiful people in television and movies--together in one room and having a party.” He likened the affair to a live version of People magazine.

The Oscars might delight occasionally in unpredictable moments--like Jack Palance dropping down for one-armed push-ups when he won for best supporting actor in 1992--but the Globes seem to pack a whole evening with them, both on and off camera.

As guests were arriving at the hotel for this year’s 56th annual Golden Globe Awards, for example, Voss couldn’t believe what he was hearing: Someone had sneaked past a phalanx of security and made off with gift bags from the dinner tables.

Then a security guard walked up to Voss to inform him that someone had been caught in the bathroom selling counterfeit $500 tickets to the show for $30 to $40 each.

Onstage, actress Christine Lahti walked to the podium with toilet paper stuck to her shoe--a joking reminder of how the year before she had been in the bathroom when her name was announced on live TV as a Golden Globe winner, and no one could immediately locate her.


That sort of fooling around would be strictly declasse at the Oscars.

“I would say the Academy Awards has become strictly business, whereas the Golden Globes are fun,” said entertainment attorney Eric Weissmann. “There is a chance at the Globes of going to the bathroom and being next to some big star and then meeting a great actress as she is coming out of the bathroom.”

Gene Weed, the Globes’ longtime director and co-executive producer along with Dick Clark, readily admits that for the Globes to retain its charm, it can’t lose its party atmosphere.

“We’re there to showcase it and not get in the way,” Weed said. “We work real hard to make sure the room is their room. We don’t want it to be stodgy. It’s the old Hollywood style of having a dinner and then the awards. That’s the way they all started, and then they got too big for their britches.”

Weed said the show has increased in popularity because they have kept the venue relatively small--1,200 can fit into the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton--and the show is unpredictable from beginning to end.

“When Christine [Lahti] was not at her table last year, someone said, ‘Go to the next award.’ But I said, ‘No, we’re not going there. Go get her out of the bathroom.’ Then Robin Williams offered her his napkin as a towel to wipe off her hands. The whole thing just mushroomed from there.”

While no one diminishes the importance and prestige of the Academy Awards, many do note that no one can really relax at the Oscars until the show’s over. And, even then, four of the nominees in each category leave devastated.


At the Golden Globes, the losers may feel a twinge of regret for a moment, but they know it’s not the equivalent of losing an Oscar race.

“Everyone wants to win, but there is nothing competitive about it,” said one top studio executive. “If you lose, well, you still had a good time. So, you see Tom Hanks get up and give a hug to Jim Carrey, who won for ‘The Truman Show.’ ”

Unlike the Oscars, the Golden Globes are all about stars. The Globes telecast has no official host and, except for a brief introduction, the show launches immediately into the awards.

“I suppose there is room for all kinds of formats, but we’re happy with ours,” Rehme said. “It’s a big television show.”

The Golden Globes have come to be known for their unscripted moments, but Rehme believes it is unfair to say the Oscars don’t have them too.

“When Cuba Gooding Jr. almost touches the rafters with joy, that’s a great Oscar moment and there are many other moments like that,” Rehme said.


Voss said it took a long time for the Golden Globes to be accepted as a major show-business award. The low point, perhaps, was when Pia Zadora was named most popular new star in 1982, he recalled.

Today, however, Voss said he is simply “flabbergasted” at how successful the Globes have become, especially since NBC began televising the show in 1996.

The nonprofit foreign press association raked in about $2 million from this year’s telecast, Voss said--not bad for a group consisting of only 82 journalists working for overseas publications.

Yet, these 82 now wield enormous influence in Hollywood because their televised awards show is seen as a precursor to the Academy Awards.

“That’s the reason the Golden Globes take place in January,” Voss explained. “For a week and a half, [academy members] can still mull over the Golden Globes.”

So flush with success is the association that Voss said it is “looking into the possibility of maybe buying a building somewhere.”


Perhaps Voss knew the Golden Globes had arrived last July, when no less than director Steven Spielberg showed up for the association’s installation luncheon. Spielberg had come to accept a check from the foreign journalists for $200,000 on behalf of the Film Foundation.

Not long afterward, Spielberg sent Voss a brief handwritten note of appreciation.

“There was no need for that,” Voss recalled. “I found it very flattering and wonderful.”