HFPA President Philip Berk Takes Leave, Faces Uncertain Future

In the aftermath of a memoir that angered members, the former HFPA president agrees to leave for six months — but he may face further action

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Philip Berk, the controversial former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, has agreed to take a six-month leave of absence from the HFPA in the wake of the publication of a memoir that has angered a number of members.

Current HFPA president Theo Kingma, aware that some members were upset enough to be pushing for Berk’s expulsion, negotiated the compromise leave of absence with Berk over the past few weeks. He informed the membership of the deal at a membership meeting on Friday, according to an individual with knowledge of the proceedings.

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Berk’s future with the organization remains in question, with some in the HFPA determined that he should not return to membership status at the end of his hiatus.

Berk’s memoir, “With Signs and Wonders: My Journey From Darkest Africa to the Bright Lights of Hollywood,” was published in paperback on Feb. 17. It infuriated a number of HFPA members by taking shots at some members and at celebrities courted for the organization’s Golden Globe Awards.

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The book’s Amazon page promises “unguarded” stories about Jodie Foster, Brad Pitt and Meryl Streep, and a “peek behind the curtain” of the HFPA, which during Berk’s years wound up awash in controversy, including a lawsuit with Dick Clark Productions over rights to the Golden Globes.

During Berk’s tenure, the former publicist for the Globes also sued the organization and charged Berk and the HFPA with fraud and with engaging in “unethical and potentially unlawful deals and arrangements which amount to a ‘payola’ scheme.”

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When Kingma was elected president last summer, he specifically said he wanted to change the climate and practices within the organization during the years of Berk and his successor, Aida Talka-O’Reilly, and concentrate on reestablishing the members’ credibility as journalists.

The HFPA declined to comment on the action.