When British comedian Ricky Gervais hosted the 2011 Golden Globe Awards, his jokes about Hollywood royalty and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the group that chooses the award winners, set the gossip columns and blogs ablaze. However, as shocking as Gervais' humor was to many, his was not the only, or biggest, controversy surrounding the 68-year-old awards.
Although Gervais' jokes got the most attention, few (except perhaps Gervais) noticed an even bigger controversy at the Golden Globe Awards this year. Michael Russell, who was for years the lead public relations agent for the HFPA, sued the organization in 2011. Russell accused the HFPA of terminating his contract after he asked that the group cease to engage in unethical activities. Russell alleged that the HFPA accepted gifts from movie studios in exchange for their members' votes for films up for awards. The organization denies Russell's allegations.
Gervais made reference to the alleged bribes in one of his jokes during the 2011 award show when he joked about the film The Tourist, starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Many were surprised the film was nominated, given the horrible reviews it had received from critics (it received a 20 percent favorable rating from the Rotten Tomatoes website). Later, rumors surfaced that the only reason the film was nominated because the film's production company, Sony, treated HFPA members to trips to Las Vegas.
Las Vegas played a role in another Golden Globes controversy in 1982. That year, Pia Zadora, a singer/actress, was nominated for New Star of the Year, beating out Oscar-nominated actresses Elizabeth McGovern and Kathleen Turner. Zadora was at the time best known for her appearances on The Tonight Show and being married to a multimillionaire Las Vegas casino owner. Many believed that Zadora's husband, Meshulam Riklis, bribed HFPA members to vote for her. It was reported that Riklis invited HFPA members to Vegas and to his home in Beverly Hills prior to the award being given.
2010 was apparently a big year for the members of the HFPA. Seven members took roles in a Hollywood film, yet these journalists are still expected to vote without prejudice.
In 1968, NBC stopped airing the Golden Globes for six years following another controversy. The Federal Communications Commission accused the awards of misleading the public regarding how the winners were chosen. Most believed the members of the HFPA voted on the nominees, but actually the winners were chosen based on who showed up.
It's little wonder that Ricky Gervais made jokes about the HFPA at their own awards show, given their legends of unethical behavior. Or perhaps, given all their problems, there was just plenty of material available.