That other very famous Hollywood awards ceremony is where you carefully craft an eloquent acceptance speech for the ages, a thank-you checklist of your representation and family members (in that order), and a “thrilled for the guy who won” TV face, just in case. The Golden Globes, on the other hand, is simply a rollicking good time. “It’s really a party,” affirms two-time Globe winner Denzel Washington. “I mean, they get the wine flowing! Everybody’s loose!”

Hoisting that film strip-encircled, planet-shaped trophy is certainly heady, but raising glass after glass of bubbly amid a densely packed ballroom of fellow glamorous glitterati is a high of its own—with not a single dull techie category, deadly serious tribute, or ham-fisted musical number to dampen the Moët-soaked merriment. Ever since a bored Rat Pack forever set the anarchic tone in 1958, bum-rushing the stage with drinks and smokes in hand, loosening their black ties and livening up the ceremony, the Golden Globe Awards—bestowed by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, that very tight-knit, once-disrespected and now extremely influential group of international journalists—has been a never-ending source of freewheeling, unguarded moments you’d never, ever see at the Academy Awards.

Oh those showstoppers! Bette Midler claiming her trophy in 1980, cupping her breasts (à la Joan Crawford) and announcing, “I’ll show you a pair of Golden Globes!” Angelina Jolie celebrating her 1999 win by taking a dip—fully clothed in her designer gown—in The Beverly Hilton’s pool, following Jack Nicholson fake mooning the audience. Brad Pitt thanking the makers of Kaopectate in 1996 for quieting the butterflies in his stomach. Both Christine Lahti (in 1998) and Renée Zellweger (in 2001) missing hearing their names announced because they were in the ladies room. Elizabeth Taylor charming everyone in 2001 by scolding herself for nearly forgetting to read the list of Best Motion Picture Drama nominees. Ricky Gervais hilariously eviscerating the HFPA and its superstar guests all night in 2010 and still somehow being invited to host again—and again!

“Everything about it is just Hollywood on steroids for one night!” says Barry Adelman, executive vice president of television for Dick Clark Productions, veteran producer of the telecasts.

IN THE BEGINNING...

After a tiny alliance of international correspondents united in an attempt to gain more sway with the studios, the group that would ultimately become the HFPA bestowed its first awards for film excellence in 1944—then in scroll form, rather than trophies—at an informal presentation at 20th Century Fox (Best Film, The Song of Bernadette, Best Actress, Jennifer Jones, and Best Actor, Paul Lukas, were inaugural winners).

Two years later, a full-fledged gala at The Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows introduced the now-traditional Globe statuette, and the ceremony evolved over the next several years: In 1951 the nominees were uniquely split into drama and musical/comedy category distinctions to broaden the scope of honorees; in 1952 the Cecil B. DeMille Award was first given—to DeMille!—to recognize career achievement; and in 1955 television categories were first added, distinguishing the Globes as one of the few awards to gather luminaries from both mediums at its banquet tables.

Dr. Aida Takla-O’Reilly, current HFPA president, member since 1956: “[By the ’50s and ’60s] we had Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Marilyn Monroe was there many times, and the pictures of her are beautiful. Peter O’Toole went crawling under the table. Mickey Rooney was so short, looking at the bosomy Jayne Mansfield at chest level [in 1960]—I don’t know if he did it purposely or if he got distracted. I’ll never forget the day Judy Garland got her award [in 1962]: I was standing there and she grabbed my hand and we walked out of the room, like she needed a friend right at this moment, after just winning the Globe. That’s very dear in my heart.”

Nancy Olson, actress: “Bill Holden and I were there [at the 1951 ceremony] for Sunset Boulevard. It was at Ciro’s and we had a microphone between us. We each held a script and we played the [movie’s] love scene. Billy Wilder got up and said, ‘I wish you guys had done that kind of a performance when we made the film!’”

Sally Field, actress: “My favorite is the one where I flew across The Cocoanut Grove as [Sister Bertrille from] The Flying Nun [in 1968]—except I didn’t want to do it and I said, ‘No, no, no!’ I wasn’t even in the nun outfit. I did it in my own outfit my mother made for me, so it made no sense—I was in pink taffeta culottes. I was caught by John Wayne, then presented the award to Dustin Hoffman for New Star of the Year.”

Tippi Hedren, actress: “I wore a black dress, one of the gowns that Edith Head had made for me, and Sal Mineo presented me with my award [for New Star of the Year] in 1964—he was a big star at that time, and the awards were becoming recognized as being an important gratification for the actor’s work. [Later] my daughter Melanie [Griffith] had such a good time being a Miss Golden Globe [in 1975], and her daughter Dakota [Johnson] as well [in 2006].”

In 1963, the HFPA added a pretty Miss Golden Globe to hand out statuettes each year, and soon tradition dictated that the young woman (and occasional Mr. Golden Globe) be the offspring of a Hollywood mainstay. A few went on to become famous in their own right and even eventually earned Globe noms and trophies themselves.

Laura Dern, Miss Golden Globe 1982, three-time Globe winner: “My grandma dropped me off in front of The Beverly Hilton hotel and I walked in and changed clothes in the little dressing room. It was very exciting—I was 13 or 14—and nerve-wracking! Certainly the next year I started working a great deal. I think it’s a vote of confidence. It’s a lovely thing to do for young actors who come from actor parents.”

Gia Mantegna, Miss Golden Globe 2011, daughter of Joe Mantegna: “My favorite film is Splendor in the Grass with Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood. That night I gave Annette Bening the award, and later met her and Warren. He grabbed my face and said, “You would be wonderful as Deanie in Splendor in the Grass if we were ever to do a remake,” and I blacked out! I looked at my mother: ‘What did he say?’ and she replayed the whole scene. It was one of the most incredible moments of my life.”

LOW-DOWN TO LEGIT...

In 1982 the HFPA took widespread flak for awarding actress Pia Zadora, star of the universally panned film Butterfly, with its Best New Star of the Year award over emerging luminaries like Kathleen Turner and Elizabeth McGovern, amid innuendo that the starlet’s husband, financier Meshulam Riklis, had swayed the 80-odd voting members with perks and trips. Nevertheless, stars began to increasingly value the awards.

Renée Taylor, actress: “There was a lot of outcry because Pia Zadora was picked as New Star of the Year. What was the movie she was in? I don’t even think you could rent it on Netflix now. She had a hard time after she won—but once you get an award, you’re not going to give it back.”

Tom O’Neil, goldderby.com editor and awards historian: “The Pia Zadora crash was so horrific because the [Globes] had earned such prominence right before that scandal. Yet they rebounded successfully just a few years later. The Globes have more star power because they don’t trifle with categories we don’t care about; they throw the best celebrity party in town all year, where the latest fashion is going to be shown off and gossip is swapped, and more than a thousand bottles of Champagne are consumed during the ceremony. Warren Beatty said it all: ‘The Oscars are business. The Globes are fun.’”

Jamie Lee Curtis, actress: “I was from comedies and horror films, and it’s very hard to get it into anybody’s headspace that you actually can do a lot of things—the more ‘legitimate’ work got all of the credit. The Golden Globes had the same thing: They were disrespected because they weren’t the more established, more A-list event until people recognized that they needed them. They’ve risen in their acceptability, and as somebody who has won Golden Globes for comedies [for the sitcom Anything But Love in 1990] I am grateful for their recognition of work that I’m proud of, which would never see the light of frickin’ day in the more [traditional awards].”

The ceremonies had been broadcast on a slew of different stations, but TV personality and producer Dick Clark restored significant luster to the proceedings when he brought the Globes from cable to NBC in 1995.

Barry Adelman, Dick Clark Productions: “When Dick took over the show, he gave it a fresh outlook, and it was important then to have that kind of a producer. Dick was an icon and a superstar himself, but he was a fan, too. He was like a kid backstage there—he was just as excited as anybody else. Once we hit NBC, there was a change in the perception of the show, and it grew in stature and became the event that it is today.”

As a result, a mass audience was getting a glimpse of those spontaneous, unscripted, or sometimes tipsy moments that made other awards shows seem staid in comparison.

Adelman: “Ving Rhames won against Jack Lemmon in the same category [in 1998]—and he actually chose to give his award to Jack Lemmon that night. He called him up on the stage and handed him the award. It was extremely emotional, but it just showed the respect that actors have for one another— and everybody in that room loved and respected Jack Lemmon, who was totally self‑effacing and funny about it.”

Ving Rhames, actor: “I didn’t know Jack Lemmon, and he wasn’t really an actor that I looked up to or anything like that. It was just something that God laid on me to do. I did it, and that’s it. My thing was it’s interesting that acting brought us together. How often is the guy from Harlem and Jack Lemmon having a moment for the world? Probably not that often.”

The Globes’ increasingly on-target choices began to be perceived as major predictors of future Academy Award winners.

O’Neil: “The Golden Globes are the stars’ Oscar auditions. If you wow the world from the podium at the Globes, you have an excellent chance of going on to claim the Oscar next. Hilary Swank with Boys Don’t Cry [in 2000] and Jamie Foxx with Ray [in 2005] gave the performances of their lives when they won, and Oscar voters wanted to see it repeated on their big night.”

John C. Reilly, actor: “When I was nominated [for Chicago in 2003], everyone was telling me, ‘You might have been an obscure character actor before, but everyone knows you now.’ I walked up to be interviewed by Joan Rivers on the red carpet and she’s like, “If you’ve been to the movies this year, then you know James C. Reilly.” I just didn’t correct her. I was like, ‘Yep—you sure do.’ It was a good reminder: Don’t get too ahead of yourself.”

Diane Warren, songwriter: “Look, I won [in 2011]—that’s what made it great for me. I’m a six-time Academy Award loser.”

Melissa Leo, actress: “There’s a touch of Old Hollywood in the lovely Golden Globes, and I was so deeply honored [by winning for The Fighter in 2011]. I think it’s a fussy, fussy crowd of people—and I think that’s marvelous that they’re so fussy.”

For the Golden Globe Awards That Wasn’t in 2008, when the writers’ strike threatened to turn the red carpet into a picket line, the HFPA decided to cancel the gala in favor of a simple, starless press conference.

Marion Cotillard, actress: The first time I attended the Golden Globes was the year after I won [for La Vie en Rose], because that year it was cancelled!

Jon Hamm, actor: “My favorite year was the only year that I won [for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series for Mad Men], which was the year they didn’t have one. That was a very strange experience—I watched it on TV like everybody else. Eventually I did get the award sent to me.”

ALL NIGHT LONG...

The Beverly Hilton, now the permanent Globes locale, is also the site of several lavish afterparties for the crowd of 5,000 or so inside the hotel— most notably for the past 14 years InStyle magazine’s annual must-attend bash—keeping the festive spirit(s) flowing until late in the evening.

Cyd Wilson, director of creative development at Time, Inc.: “You can have a pretty room, but if you don’t have the right people, the party isn’t necessarily a success. Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart met at our party [in 2002] and went on to get married. [In 2004] a band was playing a Prince song, people were dancing, and, unexpectedly, Prince jumped up on the stage and started performing—the entire tent just erupted and went crazy! [In 2003] we went from everybody partying to pitch darkness. The wait staff came in with thousands of candles and the party continued until the power came back up. I thanked Martin Katz, the jeweler, for staying. He said, ‘Are you kidding? I thought this was a heist. Do you know how many millions of dollars worth of jewels I have on women in this room? I wasn’t leaving until the lights came back on.’”

Jeanne Wolf, entertainment journalist: “The stars have to come through the hotel lobby as they go from party to party, so in the midst of security and paparazzi, you’ve got hotel guests holding out books to be signed. ‘I’m in from Kansas—do you mind taking a picture with me?’ I remember once being caught with a tuxedoed Tim Robbins stuck waiting at the elevator—you could get a top table at any restaurant in town faster than you could get a spot on the elevators going between the various parties. We figured out to use the back service elevator where the waiters go up and down.”

Fire Chief Tim Scranton, of the Beverly Hills Fire Department: “Bette Davis had had a very good time at the party and was staggering. I helped her to a chair and she said, “You are a handsome young man!” She just kept staring at me and telling me how good-looking I was, to the point where other people came over, picked her up, and kind of shepherded her out, saying: ‘Okay, Miss Davis, time to go home now…’”

Nancy O’Dell, entertainment journalist: “The stars can drink, which means sometimes it makes for a really fun interview and other times you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh—I am not getting any coherent sound bytes.’”

STAR ALLIANCES...

If it looks like the famous faces among the Globe guests are having a blast rubbing shoulders with fellow celebrities, basking in the glitzy glow of their seemingly small company town, and soaking up the occasional surreal moment, they admit the truth: They are.

Halle Berry, actress: “What I love is that you get to see people whom you really admire and respect and say, “Heeey!” and act like you know each other. You have this instant camaraderie. I don’t get to see these people all the time—I get to touch them and say, ‘How are you doing? I love what you do.’”

Kaley Cuoco, actress: “The first year I went [in 2011] was the best moment ever: I got to present and my costar Jim Parsons won for The Big Bang Theory. I got to give him his first Golden Globe win [for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series—Comedy or Musical] and it was unbelievable. I gave him the biggest hug up there!”

Jack McBrayer, actor: “After a couple of glasses of Champagne, you’re able to drop your inhibitions, so I’ll go mingling among the tables: ‘Oh, hello, Mr. Pitt.’ Julia Roberts came up to me, threw her hands around my neck, and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ so I’m assuming she’d seen 30 Rock, unless she thought I was a very capable waiter.”

Judd Apatow, writer-director: “I had a great time [in 2012] because I brought my daughter Maude and I kept trying to take her to walk really close by famous people she was scared of. I’m like, ‘Come on—let’s brush by Brad Pitt,’ and then I would make her brush by him while we walked by his table. She was so mad at me!”

Jane Lynch, actress: “It was a very strange thing because [in 2009] it was my first time on an awards show red carpet. I’m looking around, and there are all these people whom I admire and see on TV. And Glenn Close came up to me, gasped, and said, ‘I just love what you’re doing!’”

Tom Hanks, actor: “It’s pandemonium there—and hilarious. You get to take a piss next to Joseph Gordon-Levitt and say, ‘Hey, dude, listen—great stuff on that film! That’s incredible!’ So that’s my favorite memory: taking a piss with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.”

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