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Walk of Fame : Stars and Gripes in Hollywood

Times Staff Writer

As the secret selection committee wrapped up its annual June meeting, the Hollywood Walk of Fame remained without some of the brightest lights in the film industry--names such as Dustin Hoffman, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Paul Newman and George C. Scott.

But actor DeForest Kelley was no longer among them. Who is DeForest Kelley? He played Dr. Leonard (Bones) McCoy on the television and movie series “Star Trek,” and in fact is the fourth member of the cast--after William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and George Takei--to be honored with a star. Even Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the popular “Star Trek” series, now has a star on the world-famous sidewalk.

The reason the “Star Trek” crew has gone where so many great film stars have not is simple. Paramount Pictures, creator of the movies about the starship Enterprise, wanted it that way. The studio has timed the awarding of stars in its “Star Trek” galaxy to coincide with the release of the pictures. Indeed, Kelley’s star was announced even as the starship was carrying the studio’s box-office fortunes in the newly released “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.”

Advantageous Time

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As one Paramount executive put it: “It costs money to put a star in there. It’s of no value to the studio--or to anyone, for that matter--if it’s not (done) at an advantageous time.”

The Walk of Fame is the biggest, longest-running promotional gambit in town. To the chagrin of many entertainment purists, publicists and even some of the stars themselves, the 30-year-old walkway is used time and time again to hawk films, albums, radio shows and concert tours--whether or not the star is destined for lasting glory.

To be enshrined on the walk, a celebrity first must be nominated, and by someone willing to pay the $3,500 cost of installing the star. If living, the honoree also must agree to attend the unveiling ceremony.

Where the Costs Fall

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Typically, the cost has fallen to film studios, record companies, radio and television promotional departments and independent publicists, who view the walk like any other paid advertising tool. Out of this less than pure process has come a sidewalk honor roll of greats, near-greats and who-was-thats, names that fit the moment, whether it be Ray Charles or George Putnam, Natalie Wood or Pee-wee Herman, Rod Serling or Jay Thomas.

Film premieres have been promoted with stars for John Lennon (“Imagine”), Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton (“Rhinestone”), Tom Cruise (“The Color of Money”) and Jerry Lee Lewis (“Great Balls of Fire”).

In the meantime, luminaries such as Jane Fonda, Sidney Poitier, Warren Beatty, Sigourney Weaver and Peter O’Toole, just to mention a few, do not have stars.

“You walk down the street and look at those things and you think, ‘God, how did this person get there?’ ” said Bob Garcia, director of artists relations for Hollywood-based A&M; Records, whose founder, Herb Alpert, has a star. “Those (Walk of Fame) stars used to represent greatness, but at a certain time that greatness began to disappear.”

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Critics say the inequities have kept the Walk of Fame from becoming a true monument to the immortals. One studio, Columbia Pictures, ignores the walk entirely, a studio official said. The studio has not made a nomination in five years, the official said, despite the release of films such as “Ghostbusters” and “Ghostbusters II” (with Bill Murray and Dan Ayckroyd), “Tootsie” (with Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange) and “Stir Crazy” (with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder).

“Most of it is pure manipulation and product selling,” the official, who asked not to be quoted by name, said of the walk. “It’s an utterly commercial venture.”

Although the Walk of Fame is not about to be confused with the Lincoln Memorial as a hallowed monument, it nonetheless is seen as a vital component of Hollywood’s ambitious restoration plans. Officials see it as one of the city’s strongest tourist magnets, and they finally are seeking to treat--and promote--the Walk of Fame like a star in its own right.

Last year alone, new marketing efforts involving the sale of Walk of Fame books, coffee mugs and T-shirts helped to generate nearly $100,000 for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, a figure that could double as additional promotions get under way.

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Lottery Game

One company now under license with the chamber is developing a Walk of Fame lottery game, aimed at gamblers in the East, and last year an agreement was reached with Universal Studios to duplicate 60 of the walk’s 1,992 stars at a new theme park in Florida.

Revenue from the various ventures will help spruce up the 2.8-mile walk--which runs along Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street--and pay for other restoration programs in the core of the movie capital, chamber officials say.

The reigning duke of the Walk of Fame is Johnny Grant, 66, a former television game show host. For the last decade or so, Grant has served as master of ceremonies at the star unveilings and chairs the secret, five-member selection committee.

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An affable, thick-faced man who some people--including himself--call the unofficial “Mayor of Hollywood"--Grant is a familiar figure at the star ceremonies, grinning behind his spectacles, cracking one-liners in his booming bass voice. In other words, a throwback, right off the walls of Musso and Franks Grill.

Grant agrees with the critics that commercialism has cheapened the Walk of Fame process, but he called the promotional tie-ins a necessary evil. Often the period when a film opens is the only time a big-name celebrity is made available for public appearances, he said.

‘Part of the Hype’

“I’d rather do without it,” he said. “But we have to understand that in Hollywood, awards are just part of the hype. I am a child of hype. I am not sure there is any award in the world that is completely pure.”

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Grant vigorously denied the longstanding rumor that a sidewalk star can be bought for the right occasion. The committee approves from 12 to 20 stars a year from a pool of 200 to 300 nominations. Most candidates, even if they have the financial backing, even if they have a movie or album in the offing, get turned away--sometimes year after year.

“I am sending a check back right now to somebody who wanted (to buy) a star for somebody,” Grant said. “We send back a dozen checks every year. I’ve had friends come in here and do everything but cry, and I say, ‘I don’t have but one (committee) vote.’ ”

At the same time, Grant added, many of Hollywood’s greatest stars are not even nominated, or they are unwilling to attend a ceremony.

“I’m sure I could move a star for Paul Newman or Clint Eastwood very rapidly,” Grant said. "(But) Paul Newman has no desire to have a star right now. Maybe someday he will have a (film) project of his own or some studio project and he’ll say, ‘Hey, this would be a good time to do it.’

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“It’s funny, some stars don’t want any part of it and others want it so much.”

Often the stars are most eagerly sought by performers on their way up, according to entertainment-industry insiders. Many view it as a way to leave a mark that will last longer than the fame of the moment, proof that, once anyway, they were somebody special.

Publicists and relatives of candidates seeking the honor have gone so far as to lobby Mayor Tom Bradley and camp on Grant’s front lawn. Grant recalled one rabid Elvis fan who appeared outside his home demanding a star--not for Presley, who has one, but for his guitar.

“It scared me,” Grant said.

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The tenacity of the lobbyists has forced the chamber to keep the screening-committee membership a closely guarded secret. Grant is the only one who is publicly identified. The others are known only as top-ranking executives of major entertainment companies. Together they represent the five categories for which stars are awarded: motion pictures, radio, television, musical recording and live theater.

Each year, the committee tries to award stars in each of the categories, weighing motion-picture nominees against other motion-picture nominees, and so on. Candidates are evaluated, in part, for their longevity and civic contributions. A few stars each year are awarded posthumously.

Yet the secretive nature of the work--the committee does not announce who is nominated or why some nominees are rejected--has created an army of frustrated second-guessers.

“I don’t really know how they think,” complained publicist Gene Schwam. “We have yet to be able to convince the committee that Blake Edwards--who has made 46 feature films--deserves a star. Blake’s done all the ‘Pink Panther’ movies, ‘Days of Wine and Roses,’ ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’ ‘The Great Race.’ He’s eligible as a writer, director, producer. It seems silly.”

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Edwards has become one of those figures--and there are others--whose name keeps coming up, Grant acknowledged.

“I have to call . . . every year and say, ‘Your guy didn’t make it,’ ” Grant said. “I think Blake Edwards should be on the Walk of Fame. Why he doesn’t get the votes, I don’t know. He must have stepped on some toes. . . .”

Exasperated by Rejections

Publicist Monique Moss has been exasperated by the repeated rejections of Valerie Harper, Suzanne Somers and Dr. Joyce Brothers.

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“Dr. Joyce Brothers is probably the foremost media psychologist in the country,” Moss said. “She’s had radio programs for almost 20 years. Valerie Harper has won four Emmys; she’s synonymous with television. And she’s been involved in the community. Her group, LIFE (Love Is Feeding Everyone), feeds about 35,000 people a week in Los Angeles.”

After serving for several years as a chamber employee who helped to coordinate Walk of Fame ceremonies, Moss has come to see the landmark from the other side and, she said, “it angers me.”

The selection secrecy obscures some active backstage politicking. Now and then, often away from the limelight, one star steps forward to help another. Sylvester Stallone, who has a star, successfully petitioned the committee on behalf of Richard Crenna. Bob Hope made a call to promote actor and singer Jack Jones. Disc jockey Gary Owens was given a star, then helped lead the crusade for the Three Stooges. Disc jockey Rick Dees, another star holder, campaigned for Clayton Moore, the Lone Ranger.

Rock singer Billy Vera gives much of the credit for his star--one of the most controversial awarded last year--to Angie Dickinson. After 25 years in the recording industry, Vera’s biggest claim to fame was a single, “At This Moment,” that reached No. 1 for two weeks in early 1987.

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But Dickinson caught his club act and became a fan, and she nominated him for a star on the walk.

Why Me?

“It was a total surprise,” Vera recalled. “I thought, ‘My God, there are so many people who are famous worldwide . . . why me?’ ”

Homegrown personalities have a leg up in the process. Stars have gone to local TV newsmen such as George Putnam, Bill Stout, Stan Chambers and Jerry Dunphy. Bill Welsh, chamber president and a longtime television commentator for the Rose Parade, has a star. So does Grant, who played host to one of television’s first game shows in New York before becoming a TV news interviewer in Los Angeles.

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And so do a dialful of Los Angeles radio personalities: Dees, Owens, Al Lohman and Roger Barkley, Ken Minyard and Bob Arthur, Chick Hearn, Dick Whittinghill. Charlie Tuna, the announcer, not the fish, was voted a radio star this year, along with the Rev. Billy Graham.

Dees’ star in 1984--the year he released a comedy album called “Hurt Me Baby, Make Me Write Bad Checks"--was the brainchild of Wally Clark, then-general manager of station KIIS-FM, now a partner in Dees’ weekly national “Top 40" radio show. Clark persuaded the committee to overlook Dees’ age--he was barely 30--and his scant three years of air time in Los Angeles, scarcely a tick on the clock as some measure longevity.

The star drew attacks from columnists and industry insiders, but it became a boon to KIIS-FM and nettled the station’s FM rivals. One competitor, Power 106 (KPWR-FM), responded by mounting a campaign and putting up $3,500 for its own disc jockey, Jay Thomas, whose experience was perhaps more questionable than Dees’.

sh Got His Star

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Thomas got a star last month. For a week ahead of time, the station ballyhooed it on the air.

“We spent the entire morning show talking about it the day of the event,” said station general manager Phil Newmark. “We promoted it heavily. Radio is surveyed 48 of the 52 weeks out of the year. . . . The key thing in radio is, you have to be in front of the public constantly.”

The walk’s first eight stars were created in 1958, all for motion picture performers: Joanne Woodward, Burt Lancaster, Ronald Colman, Olive Borden, Edward Sedgwick, Ernst Torrence, Preston Foster and Louise Fazenda. Then, in 1960, the chamber began a mass installation, laying down 2,500 blank stars and filling them with more than 1,500 names. New names have been added every year since.

Author Marianne Morino, who compiled a 380-page guidebook on the walk, said some early radio and opera performers have receded entirely into oblivion, despite their stars. Libraries and archives now contain almost nothing of past performers such as Jessica Dragonette, a Calcutta-born soprano who sang in the 1930s show “Palmolive Beauty Box Theater,” and Parkyakarkus (pronounced “park your carcass”), a comic who appeared on “The Eddie Cantor Show” of the same era.

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Mistakes occur here and there. Sarah Vaughan accidentally was given two stars for recording, and comedian Harold Lloyd two for acting.

“I think it’s charming,” author Morino said. “It adds a certain human touch.”

Controversies have marked the walk down through the years. Charlie Chaplin, ostracized for his left-wing politics, was denied a star when the walk first was built; he was honored only after a stormy controversy--some companies threatened to quit the chamber in support of him--in 1972.

Singer Paul Robeson, who performed “Ol’ Man River” in the musical “Showboat,” also was rejected after he was accused of being a Communist. When it happened, in the mid-1970s, an American Legion representative presented a tall and elegant scroll to the chamber, commending the action.

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But hours later, the chamber committee buckled to pressures and awarded a star to Robeson anyway, recalled former executive director Mike Sims.

“The next day (the American Legion representative) showed up with another 2-foot-high scroll,” Sims remembered. "(It had) the same wording, but instead of ‘commending’ us it was ‘condemning’ us.”

Stars lobby for prestigious positions on the walk.

“You don’t want to be in front of a discount electronics store or the Pussycat Theatre if you can avoid it,” one studio publicist said.

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The top choice, the Park Place of walk real estate, is outside Mann’s Chinese Theatre, site of stars for Greta Garbo, Elton John, Glenn Miller, Zsa Zsa Gabor, John Travolta and, yes, Johnny Grant.

But only one spot near the theater is left . . . for someone.

“They’re holding onto it,” Grant said. “People call me up and say, ‘I know Ted Mann (of the theater chain). We’ll put this in front of the Chinese Theatre.’ I say good luck. Then they call me back and say, ‘What’s the next-best spot?’ ”

John Lennon’s star went outside the Capitol Records building.

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Paul Robeson’s went outside the Pussycat Theatre.

Singer Tom Jones--like Dyan Cannon and Fleetwood Mac before him--chose a place near the famous lingerie outlet, Frederick’s of Hollywood.

Barbara Eden picked a location near an ice-cream store--because, the star of “I Dream of Jeannie” said, she loves ice cream. When her limousine broke down on the way to the unveiling, celebrity guests found the site useful.

“Bob Hope had several ice creams while he waited,” Eden recalled.

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Reactions to the honor vary widely, and always have.

Chuck Connors, TV’s tough-guy “Rifleman,” cried. Bill Cosby chewed up a wad of gum and stuck it down on his own star--to be the first. Actor Forrest Tucker, stricken with cancer, tried to attend the ceremony but fell ill and was rushed to a hospital. He died soon afterward.

Allotted one of the cherished locations at the Chinese Theatre, Barbra Streisand failed to show up, apparently in fear of the crowds. This was a first, and the Walk of Fame crowd grew ugly. There was some sentiment to tear up her star.

“We had a huge crowd . . . several thousand people,” former chamber executive Sims remembered. “We kept waiting and waiting, a good hour and a half. When she didn’t show . . . one television reporter walked down to the Hollywood Wax Museum . . . and borrowed a wax figure of Streisand. He put a mike in its hand and interviewed the wax figure: ‘Where are you? Why aren’t you here?’ It was a great piece.”

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The tradition of awarding stars in different categories has given a few celebrities multiple honors. Bob Hope, for example, has three stars--and is approved for a fourth. The only performer with five stars is Gene Autry, a longtime benefactor of the chamber who owns KTLA television, where, yes, Johnny Grant is employed.


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