So, the annual booze up, organized by the Hollywood Foreign Press has successfully kept up the tradition of giving the best booziest party in town ─ and why not? If it’s a free host bar and the sponsor is taking care of the bill, let’s have another one for the road! Now that all the booze bottles, empty magnums of Moet Champagne have gone to be recycled (we hope) and the new and shiny Golden Globes have settled in amongst the memorabilia in the cabinet, we wish all the winners a belated congratulations and hopefully will see you at the Oscars.
My first encounter with the Hollywood Foreign Press was in 1959. I had been smuggled into a screening of THEY CAME TO CONDURA at the old Director’s Guild near Doheny and Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood. It was my first Hollywood preview and I didn’t know the procedure ─ that the back row is reserved for the stars of the film ─ so, being a very nervous late arrival, clutching my program, I took my seat right in the middle of the empty back row ─ the best seat in the house. Minutes later, this tall, blonde hunk shuffled along the aisle followed by a gorgeous shapley red head ─ it was Tab Hunter and Rita Hayworth and they were followed by Gary Cooper and Van Heflin...the stars of the film.
Yeah Man, I had hit the jackpot. Furthermore at the end of the film we all sashayed into the adjoining Green Room for the party. Me, hobnobbing with the big nobs, Wow! I could easily get used to this caper. I ordered a large Tanqueray G&T at the bar, with a slice of lemon and not too much ice. Why not, it was all free! Then, I sashayed around the crowded room like I was the Queen of Sheba on ice skates. I complimented Rita on her turquoise dress, completely ignoring the studio publicist who was expecting me to ask questions about the film we had just seen. Tab was quite talkative, but Van and Gary were swallowed up by the New York Press. Afterwards the stars and studio big wigs sailed off in their shiny limousines and I walked across Santa Monica Boulevard and caught the Metro bus to Hollywood and took the elevator to my boudoir in the Y.M.C.A.
That was my first Hollywood piss up, compliments of the Hollywood Foreign Press…and I had gate-crashed their star studded shindig. I was very impressed. I had schmoozed with Rita Hayworth and Tab Hunter, I was three sheets in the wind, full as a tick and slept like a baby all night. What more could a gate-crasher wish for? The next day, armed with at least a dozen of my blurbs printed in British magazines, I went to the H.F.P office in Hollywood, where I was met by two tall Swedish gentleman ─ identical twins, one had a monocle in the right eye and his brother in the left. After a brief interview I was welcomed into the club. I had joined the booziest organization in town. From then on I started to get weekly invitations to studio press previews of their films, usually followed by a piss up on the adjoining sound stage. “If you’ve produced a lousy movie but wanna a great review, invite the Foreign Press to a party and lay on plenty of free booze,” advised Jack Warner, who was never very diplomatic.
With so many invitations we all became very blasé about the so-called piss up après le movie. Disney had very bubbly hosts and hostesses, but usually served freshly squeezed Orange Juice. Columbia and Universal served the brands of booze you see on the shelves of a Tijuana liquor store. 20TH Century Fox were quite generous, especially considering one used up half-a-tank of gas, driving all the way out to their lot in Century City. The stars in the film were usually at the party, swanning a round, posing for pix and dodging awkward questions. The Foreign Press were all issued with I.D. badges, with our name (usually spelled wrong) and the name of the magazine. Many of the so-called stars should also have worn name tags ─ they always seemed to be much shorter, older and frequently lost for words without a script in their hand.
I remember the preview for “What’s Up Doc?” starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. None of us were very sober ─ or even wanted to be. Miss Streisand was working the crowd and sashayed up to me, examined my name tag, sniffed and walked away. “And the same to you with brass knobs on,” I yelled. That was the second time the diva had snubbed me. After that I made sure I, or any of my sub editors, never mentioned her name in any of our magazines again.
The Hollywood Foreign Press were not taken very seriously at first. “It’s no good inviting the Foreign Press, because half of them will be deported by next week,” whispered big wig from Paramount .
“You’re a member of the Foreign Press, Mister Asquith,” sneered some pen pusher from the London Times. “I’d never join that mob, they’re just a bunch of foreigners and alcoholics.”
I remember one shindig at Warner Studio to publicize their movie The Great Race starring Natalie Wood and Jack Lemon. The studio had invited scores of newspaper editors from all over the world. The largest sound stage had been transformed into a replica of the famous Coconut Grove nightclub and one of us “local” scribes were seated at a table with the foreign guests to answer any questions and “push” the film. I was seated with a two beautiful French women dressed in their latest Parisian rags and elaborate beehive hairdos sparkling with jewels. They certainly knew how to quaff the champagne , but spoke very little English. My school boy French wasn’t much use. All I had remembered from my school days were Merde! and a saucy invitation for the lady to sleep with me!
Since none of these bon mots were apropos, I was glad when a less-than-sober Dean Martin came on stage, sang a few songs then announced. “Ladies and Shentelmen,” he slurred, “It gives me great, great….. pressure to introduce our host, Mister Jack Warner.” We all applauded and applauded and applauded, but no Jack Warner came on. Dean got very nervous and was about to burst into song, when suddenly Jack swaggered onto the stage. He stood their grinning and adjusting his fly. “Sorry, I’m late,” he said, “I had to take a leak.”
“Zee leak? What is zee leak?,” questioned the puzzled French Fifi at my table. It was an awkward question, but fortunately I had too much of the bubbly to worry. “He had to visit the pissoir,” I replied, trying not to laugh. “Mon Dieu ! Le pissoir ? Sacre Bleu!” screamed Madame Fifi. “Monsieur Warner dans le pissior?” Now you can bet our French Fifi had plenty to write about when she got back to Paris and it was not all about Natalie Wood and Jack Lemon in The Great Race…
The H.F.P.A. may garner a lot of headlines about their booze ups, and wild parties, but it’s seldom written up about their donation of $18 million dollars to educate disadvantaged children, or their on-going financial support for the restoration of old classic films. Being an ex-member, I can testify they are a great bunch of people who know how to have a good time and share the wealth. But then, THAT’S HOLLYWOOD!