Philip Berk HFPA
Michael Tran/FilmMagic

In Hollywood, a kiss-and-tell autobiography is OK, but a kiss-and-mock book is out of the question.

Longtime Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. member and former president Philip Berk has taken a six-month leave of absence from the organization that hands out the Golden Globes, which was not pleased with his memoir “With Signs and Wonders.” His sabbatical means that he will not be attending meetings or voting. It’s not clear yet whether he automatically rejoins after six months, or whether the org and he will renegotiate his possible re-entry — or further repercussions.

At a time when the HFPA has been working to clean up its image, the book paints a negative portrait of the org, often with anecdotes from 10 to 20 years ago. Berk also talks about the contract talks with Dick Clark Prods., which produces the very profitable Golden Globes telecast and Berk does not portray the org’s negotiating skills in a favorable light.

The leave was said to be voluntary. As the HFPA consists of L.A.-based journalists who cover showbiz for overseas companies, members are aware that under First Amendment rights, freedom of speech is a factor.

In March, Roger Friedman reported on Showbiz 411 that the new book “shows all the petty bickering and backstabbing, the focus on money, and the lack of interest in anything other than celebrity and power– certainly not movies – that make the Golden Globes such a joke.” Berk wrote about the suicide of a fellow HFPA member, whom he had clashed with, and opined “Thus his death reinforced my belief that anyone who tries to harm me comes to an untimely end.”

Berk takes jabs at other celebrities and at the organization, saying that its members cuddle up with studio executives and are swayed by the wrong things. Writing about the 1991 “Billy Bathgate” and a meet-the-HFPA event tied to it, Berk wrote, “Nicole Kidman but not her costar Dustin Hoffman did an interview for ‘Billy Bathgate,’ and it paid off. She was nominated; he was not.”

The book and the fallout are discouraging for the HFPA, which has been working hard in the last few years to redeem itself. Theo Kingma, elected president last year, is well respected both within and outside the org, and many members are working to dispel the bad press. The problems with the media date back to the 1960s, when the Globes were first telecast, and NBC and the org were reprimanded by the FCC over misleading viewers about voting methods. The issues continued with the 1981 Pia Zadora incident, which is annually invoked and, more recently, a series of lawsuits over the telecast.

But the HFPA members have worked to remind people of their scholarships, film preservation, philanthropy and, most important, their work to keep the organization focused on the right priorities. Some members were said to have sought a more stern punishment for Berk.

 

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