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The Hollywood Foreign Press in the Pages of Variety

When Daily Variety first reported on the formation of something called the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Assn. on Nov. 1, 1943, it noted that group represented a combined global readership of 15 million.

And by 1945 they were getting noticed for their now-famed location junketeering with Daily Variety’s travel chatter column observing “Hollywood foreign correspondents checking out to SF practically to the last man.”

The organization showed early savvy in 1946 for nabbing high-profile honorees and a bold flair for social consciousness long ahead of its Hollywood fashionability when it presented Frank Sinatra with a special award “for his work in the cause of tolerance.”

And by 1947 the first trade ads touting the winners began appearing with the org celebrating itself. Legendary composer Max Steiner sent the group his “thanks” the following year.

By 1949, the Golden Globes had moved from a paragraph buried inside Variety, to page one, where the attendance of Hollywood Studio chief Jack Warner, lead actress winner Jane Wyman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who was accepting on behalf of Laurence Olivier, who was working in England.

By the end of its first decade, the group’s position inside the industry had grown to the point where the org was being hailed by top Hollywood pros such as MGM’s international publicity chief, Robert Vogel, who commended them for having “a more constructive attitude than that of their American counterparts.” In the same piece, Variety touted the fact that “Hollywood now has 115 foreign reporters” while “only 37 foreign reporters” toiled in Washington.

The HFPA’s fight for industry and media respect didn’t start in the wake of its infamous “newcomer of the year” award to Pia Zadora in 1982, a kudo that still casts a shadow 35 years later, every time a detractor wants to question the group’s tastes and/or ethics.

As early as 1955, the group was bristling at what members viewed as “discourtesy” from the long-defunct Council of Motion Pictures Organizations (Compo).

“This Is Public Relations!” blared the Variety headline in 1955. “Public relations don’t stop at the borders of the United States,” noted Variety. “The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. has protested … that [COMPO] in planning its brand news Audience Awards poll banquet totally overlooked the overseas scribes.”

Variety did report a somewhat happy ending, but wags who’ve chided the group’s penchant for ample buffets will be amused to note that more than 60 years ago, “Wangling got eight of the foreigners invited for the preliminaries but they must depart — unfed — before dinner!”

And in a foreshadowing of one the group’s famed moments, the 1998 Christine Lahti “bathroom break” acceptance speech, the org’s casual familiarity with the Hollywood star garnered ink back in 1957 when Charlton Heston and Maureen O’Hara debated overseas potty perks at a HFPA-sponsored Film Abroad panel. Variety reported that Heston “started a controversy” when he challenged O’Hara’s view that “the chief disadvantage to foreign locationing was the plumbing.” “That,” retorted Miss O’Hara, “is only because you’re a man.”

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