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Everything You Need to Know About the Golden Globes

For the public, the Golden Globe Awards typically mark the start of Hollywood's busy awards season, when the entertainment industry celebrates its best movies (and, in some cases, music and TV shows) from the year before. There are several major events throughout the season, including the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Grammys, the BAFTAs, the Independent Spirit Awards, and the Oscars — but in many ways, the Golden Globes stand alone. Everything about the year’s first major gathering of marquee names is unlike any other ceremony to follow, from the melding of movie and television trophies to the wedding banquet-like seating of about 1,400 stars mingling around circular tables at the Beverly Hilton, with 125 cases (or about 9,000 glasses!) of Moët & Chandon at the ready. The 2021 show will look a little different due to the COVID-19 pandemic — co-hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are going bicoastal, for one thing — but then again, the Globes are always a little weird and unpredictable.

A look back at the 78-year history of the honors, voted on by a group of about 90 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), shows exactly how the tradition came to be such a showbiz anomaly.

The Birth of the Golden Globe Award

An old film projector
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The history of the Golden Globes starts with the history of the HFPA, an exclusive group of Los Angeles-based writers covering Hollywood for international publications. Similar groups existed earlier — notably, the Hollywood Association of Foreign Correspondents in 1928 and the Foreign Press Society in 1935 — but neither lasted very long. Then, in 1943, a correspondent for the U.K.’s Daily Mail led the effort to form the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association (HFCA). At the time, the film industry was focused mainly on American audiences and hadn’t looked much beyond its borders. The HFCA aimed to change that. The goal of the group was captured in its founding motto: “Unity Without Discrimination of Religion or Race.”

Soon after its formation, the HFCA presented its very first film awards. In early 1944, the group held a luncheon at 20th Century Fox Studios, a rather informal ceremony where scrolls were handed out to Watch on the Rhine’s Paul Lukas for Best Actor, as well as The Song of Bernadette and its star Jennifer Jones for Best Film and Best Actress, respectively. With that, a tradition was born, although there was not yet a trademark trophy to define it.

The next year, the organization launched a contest to try to find a statue that could encompass what the HFCA’s honors meant. The winning idea was a golden globe on a pedestal, proposed by Marina Cisternas, the organization’s then-president, and first handed out in 1946.

The Early Years

Marilyn Monroe showing off her Golden Globe award
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The Golden Globe Awards quickly gained traction in Hollywood, with increasingly glitzy ceremonies attended by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ingrid Bergman, and Gregory Peck. But just because the HFCA had struck gold with an awards ceremony didn’t mean that it was smooth sailing behind the scenes. The organization splintered in the summer of 1950, as several members split off into the Foreign Press Association of Hollywood (FPAH), claiming that too many “non-professional journalists” were in the original group. FPAH promptly organized its own awards ceremony, the World Film Favorite Festival, held annually from 1951 to 1953. They gave the winners what they called Henrietta Awards, named for FPAH president Henry Gris. Among the recipients: Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, and Tony Curtis.

Meanwhile, the HFCA continued to host the Golden Globes, even adding new categories and special awards. (More on that later.) In true Hollywood fashion, though, the breakup with FPAH didn’t last long. In 1954, the two groups reconciled for a joint ceremony, and in 1955, they officially merged under a new name, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which is how the organization is still known today.

Categories and Special Awards

Portrait of Carol Burnett in 1970
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As the Golden Globe Awards have evolved, so have its categories. At the first few ceremonies in the 1940s, the HFCA gave out fewer than 10 awards, and all of them were for movies. The original categories were pretty standard — Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, etc. — but in 1948, the organization started to get creative with honors for New Star of the Year and Best Juvenile Performance.

In 1951, the acting categories were split into two genres: drama, and musical or comedy. The Cecil B. deMille Award followed in 1952, to honor “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.” (Its first recipient was deMille himself, a legendary producer and director known for films including The Ten Commandments and The Greatest Show on Earth.)

But perhaps the biggest change came in 1956, when the HFPA presented its first Television Achievement awards to Dinah Shore and Desi Arnaz. The introduction of those awards led to more the following year, when five new Television Achievement honors were given out in the categories of Best Western, Best Children’s Show, Best Daytime Theatre, Best Nighttime Theatre, and Best Audience Participation Show. Since then, television has remained an integral part of the Golden Globes.

Categories continue to ebb and flow even now, with Best Animated Feature introduced in 2007 and the Carol Burnett Award — for "outstanding contributions to television on or off the screen" — presented to its namesake in 2019. Other honors, such as the World Film Favorite (1951 to 1980), the Newcomer Award (1948 to 1983), and Best Documentary (1973 to 1977), have been lost to history — along with the separation of cinematography into black and white and color films. And the Samuel Goldwyn International Award, which lasted from 1959 to 1964, eventually gave way to the Best Foreign Language Film — a category that is hotly debated today.

The HFPA also has a few non-award traditions — most notably the selection of a Golden Globe Ambassador (formerly called Miss or Mr. Golden Globe). The Ambassador is typically the child of a notable Hollywood star, and is meant to highlight the multi-generational aspect of the industry. In past years, the honor has gone to Laura Dern (the daughter of Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern), Melanie Griffith (the daughter of Tippi Hedren), and Dakota Johnson (the daughter of Melanie Griffith).

How Voting Works

Champagne being poured into glasses
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Nominations for the awards are determined by ballot by the HFPA, which currently has “about 90 members,” according to the Golden Globes website. (The Oscars, conversely, are voted on by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which boasts more than 8,400 members.) To apply for the selective group, correspondents must be based in southern California, cover entertainment for a reputable foreign outlet, submit 24 clips from the previous three years, and be listed in the MPAA journalist directory for two years prior. Applicants must also be sponsored by two current members.

For the Golden Globes, active members receive ballots along with a list of eligible entries, and have to rank their top five picks in each category. Accounting firm Ernst & Young then tallies up the votes, and the nominees are revealed in an early morning ceremony weeks before the actual awards. Final ballots are sent out to members soon after, and votes are tallied up again to be announced at the live show. (The Oscars process is a little different: Academy members nominate only for the categories in which they're experts; for example, actors nominate actors, writers nominate writers, and so on. But all 8,400 members vote for every category on the final ballot.)

Since the HFPA represents a different (and much smaller) voting block than the people who vote for the SAG Awards and the Oscars, the list of Golden Globe winners often differs pretty significantly from those of awards shows later in the season. In 2020, for example, the Best Picture winners at the Globes were 1917 and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; at the Oscars, Bong Joon-ho's Parasite won the top prize. Even the announcement of nominees offers up tons of surprises. Recently, there have also been questions about whether studio perks and kickbacks, such as international press junkets, may influence voting for the awards.

In any case, the Golden Globes continue to stand out as the most unpredictable show — in every way. You can see what surprises this year's ceremony has in store on Sunday, February 28, on NBC at 7 p.m. ET.

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