Golden Globe Voters Live the Good Life

The Golden Globe Awards are being given out this Sunday night on NBC.

They're not considered "legit" by members of the real Hollywood community, as are the Oscars or even the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Do you know who decides who gets a Golden Globe? Or what goes on behind the scenes?

Tales involving the 93 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association are the stuff of legend among Hollywood publicists — even more legendary than those involving its East Coast equivalent, the National Board of Review.

Many members are neither foreign nor press. There have been many accounts of them fighting publicly and bickering embarrassingly over things such as seating and access to stars.

According to a story in the New York Times, the group's treasurer had to write actor Brendan Fraser a letter of apology last year after groping him during the group's early-morning nominating announcement.

The HFPA is also a wealthy organization, thanks to a lucrative $30 million, 10-year contract with NBC that was renewed last year.

The NBC deal makes the Globes — which used to be a pokey little event shown on cable or in syndication on a Saturday night — a big deal to the movie studios. This way they get a huge promotional tool to help sell movies far in advance of the real awards, the Oscars.

Even better, the HFPA is registered as a charitable foundation, so the money it takes in from NBC — $6 million just last year — is tax-free. And it's living pretty well on it.

According to the group's 2004 federal tax filings, obtained by this column from the California State Attorney General's office, the Golden Globe Awards last year listed a total of $2 million in expenses, including $500,000 in travel costs for glamorous trips to events such as the Cannes Film Festival and another $500,000 in salaries for its few staffers.

That's a lot of money, considering the organization only has 93 members, and half of them are retired or immobile.

It's even more significant when you consider that the entire cost of producing the Golden Globe Awards show is borne by Dick Clark Productions. The HFPA doesn't put in a dime, but does get the NBC money.

To be fair, the HFPA gave away a little more than $500,000 in charitable contributions to groups such as the Sundance Film Festival and the American Film Institute.

But some of its donations might raise a few eyebrows. For example, in 2004, the year it honored actor Michael Douglas with its lifetime achievement award, it also gave $10,000 to his family's personal foundation.

I tried calling the group's president, Lorenzo Soria, and e-mailing its publicist, Michael Russell, but got no response.

The group also ponied up $2,880 to Local 600 of the IATSE. That's the labor union that covers international photographers and includes cinematographers.

Several HFPA members describe themselves as photographers in order to qualify for inclusion in the organization.

Last year, there was a huge brouhaha when the main photo agencies claimed they were kept out of the event altogether so that HFPA members could have exclusive rights and sell the stars' pics around the world themselves.

Mirjana van Blaricom, the HFPA's former president, left the group nine years ago in a dispute and started her own awards show, the Satellite Awards, which she feels is more legit. She told me that it was she who cut the deal with NBC, but was then forced to exit.

Blaricom, who comes from the former Yugoslavia, is highly critical of the group.

"They waste money on meals and trips," she told me. "They fly all over to junkets and press conferences. If they're foreign press, why are they going to other countries? Shouldn't they just be covering [movies] in the U.S.?"

Indeed, the HFPA takes care of its own. In 2004, the group made a donation to a project founded by lifelong member Maureen Dragone, whose mother started the HFPA in 1943. Dragone is possibly the group's most tenured voter.

I spoke with her last week about the HFPA, about which she has written a book. She fears that Soria, the current president, will not authorize her use of the group's logo. He's currently reviewing the book, she told me.

"And I don't like it just lying around there," she said, "I have a lot of information that no one else knows."

Dragone acknowledged many of the members are retired and elderly. About one, she said, "I think she just had a stroke."

She recognized many names on the list of members, but did not know their journalistic affiliations. Her own, she said, was "covering Thailand," even though she isn't Thai. David Tewksbury, who writes for a publication in Argentina, she pointed out, "isn't Argentinian."

Another member, Elmar Biebl, has a Web site that offers his own special brand of editorial services, such as setting up press credentials to the Oscars ("including stretch limousines," of course) and "Contacts" (to major talent, to agents, publicists, event coordinators, exhibitions, conventions, etc.)

Blaricom told me about the members: "They don't have real credentials, about 45 of them. They should get real jobs. Once they had real journalists. But they all died. I think I was the youngest one when I was there."

Many of the people who vote on your favorite films are old, retired or simply not from the movie world. For example, Howard Lucraft is an 88-year-old jazz writer who told me he writes for a small magazine in England.

Argentina Brunetti, an Italian actress who appeared in "It's a Wonderful Life," is in her 90s and lives in Rome with her children. Alexander Nevsky is not the famous 13th-century Russian prince — he appears to be a former Mr. World bodybuilder (real name Sasha Kurtisyn) who is not a journalist and has one production-and-script credit, for a movie called "Moscow Heat" that has been released only in Russia.

There are also several pairs of siblings on the list, and a few married couples, including one that is now divorced or separated.

NBC, despite all this, is happy with the HFPA. The network's publicist issued me a statement: "NBC is thrilled to broadcast 'The 62nd Annual Golden Globe Awards.' It is a pleasure to work with both the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Dick Clark Productions on an event that has become 'Hollywood's Biggest Party of the Year.'"

This year, the HFPA added four new writers. Two of them, Reuben Nepales and Gabriel Lerman, had credits that checked out easily.

But the other two — Helene Hoehne, who is said to write for Germany's Bauer Publications (which publishes the U.S. tabloid magazine In Touch) and Lilly Lui, who has the Oriental Daily News as her affiliate — were pretty much nonexistent in extensive Internet searches.

In Hoehne's case, I even searched Yahoo! Germany. The only Helene Hoehne who turned up living in Los Angeles was a member of what appeared to be a senior group called the Turners, L.A.'s oldest German club.

Their specialty, according to their Web site, is fencing and singing.