By Dick Guttman (excerpted from his memoir, Starflacker: Inside the Golden Age of Hollywood)
One question which is chatted up in Hollywood at this crucial waiting-for-the-Oscar-noms time of the year is "do the Golden Globes awarding influence, foretell or in any other way impact the names and films which will decorate the nominations list? (to be read out on January 24 this year) There are usually some overlaps and also some Hollywood Foreign Press Association winners who don't make the Oscar countdown at all.
In 1980 one Globe awardee came in from such deep left field, an achievement not vaguely on the minds or tongues of Oscar electors, that there was instant scandal when it was announced. It drew such wrath that there was question if the award show would be telecast the following year. The recent passing of super-best-selling "Exorcist" and Oscar-winning screenwriter (for the adaptation of his book) William Peter Blatty brings that all-but-forgotten Golden Globe controversy to mind.
My PR firm was engaged by Blatty to strategize and execute the awards-contention campaign for The Ninth Configuration, which he had directed, produced and adapter from his honored novel Twinkle, Twinkle Killer Kane. We came on the scene for that film after a very uninspired release campaign had separated the excellent film from its intended audience. Oscar voters have a lot of films to look at, and they tend to first see those which received good reviews and rousing box-office response. I knew that Ninth Configuration would do well with the HFPA members because they religiously see all of the films. It's their job and their passion. I wanted to give Ninth that high-profile confirmation because that's my job and my passions, and because Blatty, after all, was a former press agent who had taken his typewriter to ultimate glory, a shining graduate of our often underestimated profession.
His very personal film's nomination for the Golden Globes screenplay prize was barely noticed, dismissed as one of the quirky choices the foreign press guys and gals sometimes come up with. Yes, it had a brilliant cast of actors' actors like Stacy Keach and Scott Wilson and it was original and inventive and very European in its narrative style.
It was a discovery film, well deserving of honor which the town might have suspected if it had read the reviews. Wikipedia can tell you that Ninth Configuration was "focused on the question of the existence of God. The film was a commercial flop despite critical acclaim. The movie critic Jerry Stein reviewed it as a 'masterpiece' in The Cincinnati Post and Peter Travers described it as 'the finest large-scale American surrealist film ever made' in People magazine." That certainly justified the Globe nomination (it had three,) and very arguably the win.
But not for an industry which had written it off at the first meager ticket sales.
There were audible outcries of disbelief and gasps in the room when The Ninth Configuration was announced the winner. It didn't go down at all well and for a very simple reason. No one in the room apart from members of the HFPA had seen it. It was in many ways Blatty's finest writing, and well deserving of the honor. It very palpably threw a pall of doubt on the proceedings, and the shock waves continued in babble the next day and for some time..
If I had been doing PR for the HFPA, I would have suggested that they campaign to prove it a just decision, contest the Ninth Configuration outcry, have prominent screenings of it to show they are among the town's best discoverers, which they often are. Neither the HFPA nor Blatty had a taste for that further engagement, but it could have been effective.. and fun. They were content to let the outcry dry up instead of turning it inside out and underlining it for history, which was my press agent instinct.
So I offer this recall in its stead and as a salute to a fine writer and filmmaker.. and former press agent... who served his art and his public and his industry well.