It’s one of contemporary Hollywood’s most enduring relationships: for 47 years the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. has made the Beverly Hilton its home for the Golden Globe Awards. No other annual awards event is so intertwined with its venue. Even with changes in ownership, from Conrad Hilton to Merv Griffin to Beny Alagem, several renovations and now a major upgrade (the addition of the 170-room Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills on the former Trader Vic’s corner), the nonprofit remains firm in its commitment to 1,300-guest Intl. Ballroom for its kudos fest.
2018 will mark the ceremony’s 43rd consecutive outing at the hotel. And it’s been suggested the HFPA may host its own glam afterparty at the hotel’s recently completed The Gardens tripartite outdoor venue.
“We have great people, great energy and the most professional staff,” says the Beverly Hilton’s owner, entrepreneur Alagem. The Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills’ opening tops Alagem’s decade-long effort to capitalize on the property’s central location at the intersection of Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards and expand the site’s luxury offerings. The construction of the Waldorf also paved the way for a redo of the Hilton’s lobby, now opened up with a wall of glass and view towards the freshly planted Wilshire Garden event space and its green living wall of thousands of succulent plants.
“He’s always looking to invest into the hotel and asking, what can we do next?” says the Beverly Hilton’s general manager Sandy Murphy of Alagem’s commitment to improvements. During her eight-year tenure, Murphy has seen millions invested in the Intl. Ballroom’s sound, lighting and infrastructure to make it more production friendly. Enhancements are made (such as the ballroom carpet design) after consultations with Dick Clark Productions (the Globe’s broadcast producers) as well as the HFPA.
The Hilton’s draw for the HFPA (and dozens of other event producers) includes the hotel’s 700 union staff and, importantly, the original design of the ballroom. In the mid-1950s, hotelier Conrad Hilton envisioned a showplace that would attract and link high society, entertainment and politics. He worked closely with architect Welton Becket, who also designed Hollywood’s Capitol Records building, the Cinerama Dome and seven other Hilton hotels under the hotelier’s oversight.
“The ballroom’s layout came from very specific instructions from Conrad Hilton,” says Judy Marks, an architectural historian and consultant, commissioned by Historic Resources Group to research the building’s history prior to the Waldorf Astoria’s construction. “He wanted an intimate, smaller room with the VIP area on the floor, while the rest of the crowd is set apart in tiered areas.”
HFPA board member Lorenzo Soria finds the composition works impeccably. “It’s not the typical square ballroom,” he notes.
Former HFPA president Judy Solomon recalls the org’s first outing at the Hilton in 1962, when Marilyn Monroe received the World’s Film Favorite award. “She was actually more beautiful than any picture,” Solomon says.
The Hilton that year was selected as an alternative to the Ambassador Hotel’s Cocoanut Grove, then undergoing a renovation. The Intl. Ballroom’s unique ambiance is what brings the HFPA back annually, Solomon says. The limited number of seats ensures the kudos ceremony’s exclusivity.
“There were times we have considered other venues for the reason we are a little tight and it’s always difficult to accommodate everyone,” Soria says.
“There is a special chemistry and magic about that ballroom and the Golden Globes; there’s a magic that happens that I can’t imagine happening anywhere else,” says Barry Adelman, executive vice president of television at Dick Clark Prods., where he serves as one of the telecast’s executive producers. The tightly controlled guest list fosters excitement from the beginning of the show to the end due to proximity of leading talent from TV and film, “shoved together cheek-by-jowl” in the pit, he says. “For that show, on that night, it’s a great marriage of event and venue.” 2018 will be the vet producer’s 22nd outing.
The room’s sightlines ensure all audience members have a good view of the action, Adelman says. Although the ceiling height is not ideal, and the camera people need to squeeze through some very tight spaces between tables, those challenges add to the intimacy of the room and the broadcast. Dick Clark Prods. sets up shop at the hotel in the weeks prior to the airdate while the continuity of Hilton staff contributes to a smooth production.
“We work very closely with the manager and owner, who is a great friend of the show and company,” says Adelman.
Another advantage to the centrally located property: the Beverly Hilton serves as a one-stop shop for the Globes from red carpet prep for talent to late-night partying. There’s also ample space for more than 3,000 additional guests who line up for the elaborate studio and network sponsored after-parties, which make use of the parking lot roof, the Oasis Garden and the Stardust Penthouse. And this year, the 6,650-sq.-ft. Garden, with an outdoor, fountain-filled ante-room called the Secret Garden, will augment the Hilton’s more than 60,000 square-feet of event space.
Tallying security, media, staff and hotel guests, more than 5,000 are on site for the Sunday affair. Planning begins earnestly in September, although discussions are always ongoing as the HFPA meets monthly at the hotel; preparations kick into high gear once nominations are announced (at the Hilton, naturally). As the event comes so close to the holidays this year, Murphy predicts a mad rush for the hotel’s operations manager Michael Robertson.
Complementing the Hilton is its “beautiful little sister,” says Alagem of the posh Art Deco-styled Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills. The 12-story tower by Gensler architects has 6,300 square feet of versatile event space; a gold-hued Wilshire Boulevard-facing ballroom, the expansive Jean-Georges restaurant with outdoor patio and a rooftop hot spot. Catering is by the affable restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who says, “We can do whatever you want from the restaurant to the rooftop, in and out.”
The Hilton has also upped its culinary game in recent years. “Food and beverage offerings are more involved than in the past,” says general manager Murphy. Fresh organic ingredients, a skilled pastry team crafting more than 30,000 individual pastries, vegetarian dishes, grain bars and more combine for an elevated culinary experience, he says. The free-flowing Moet Chandon magnums, champagne cocktails and mini-bottles aid the convivial spirit.
The Hilton facilitates star-studded moments offstage, too: service tunnels allow for discreet entrances and exits (Brad Pitt and former President Clinton most recently), dips in the pool (Angelina Jolie famously jumped in after her “Gia” win in 1999) and high-profile flirtations (Harrison Ford reportedly met Calista Flockhart at the Globes).
“It’s been an amazing partnership,” says Murphy. Though no dollar figure is shared, in terms of revenue, it’s a very good day for the Hilton, Murphy confirms. Expect the 75th anniversary edition to hold some surprises.
“It might be there are venues that are larger or more luxurious, or have other qualities, but at the end, the Beverly Hilton fits very well with what we do,” says Lorenzo Soria. “It would be hard to conceive having the Golden Globes somewhere else.”