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Hung Up on Getting Noticed : Who Are Those Folks in the Photos at the Cleaners, Cafe and Car Wash?

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shannon Kenny was surrounded by scores of famous faces. Toasting her 22nd birthday in Hollywood’s Formosa Cafe, she glanced at Joan Collins, Burt Reynolds and Shirley MacLaine. She went ga-ga over megastar Eddie Murphy and was smitten with an image of Bono of the rock group U2. With 800 photographs crammed on the walls of the restaurant’s Star Dining Room, Kenny was in celebrity heaven.

But wait, who is Kathleen Hughes, whose photo hangs near those of Tony Curtis and Shelley Winters? And over there by Dick van Dyke--that guy, Lincoln Kilpatrick--ever heard of him?

Kenny turned to girlfriend Selina Woolery and wondered aloud if Robert Newman--on the same wall with Lee Majors--is any kin to Paul.

No relation, said Lem Quon, the 80-year-old owner of the hangout that serves up Cantonese cuisine amid a gallery of famous faces--and faces waiting for The Big Break.

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“I just hung them up there with all the others because they’re trying to be stars,” said Quon, referring to the Formosa’s cast of struggling actors and actresses. “They’ve been on shows, you know, in the background.”

Besides, Quon, added, “They make the place look pretty. But, what’s more important is that it makes them feel good. They give me their pictures so I hang them up.”

From Beverly Hills to the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, unknowns who struggle to land walk-ons, stand-ins and bit parts and yearn to be members of Hollywood’s royalty strike poses next to real stars. Their photographs--some expertly framed in neat rows, others merely stapled on walls, collage style--hang in dry cleaners, car washes, cafes, print shops, shoe repair stores, clothing boutiques, flower shops and pet grooming salons.

Inevitably, their wind-swept, air-brushed visages prompt customers to ask: Who are these people? Do they tote glossies in their briefcases, gym bags and car trunks, ready to autograph at a moment’s notice? Does a wall full of 8 by 10s translate into profits for business owners?

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“It wouldn’t be Los Angeles without them,” said People magazine and Fox-TV Hollywood gossip columnist Mitchell Fink. “I’ve always been fascinated by places that have the celebrity photo walls, but I’m more fascinated by the people who make you wonder, ‘Who are you?’ ”

“I’ve seen pictures of people I have never heard of, from comics to starlets. Merchants hang them because it looks good. It adds a celebrity aura to the business. For the person who is on a wall at their dry cleaners or favorite restaurant, in a small degree, it means to them that they’ve made it,” Fink said.

It also means they have a bit part in the lore--and lure--of Hollywood, said Don Colgan, the host of a Century Cable public access program called “Hollywood Scene.” Colgan’s show features well-known Hollywood celebrities and not-so-well-known personalities.

“To get your face, no matter how unfamous it is, on a wall is to be a part of one of the last vestiges of old Hollywood. I like it. It makes you feel like you are in Hollywood. It’s Disneyland for adults.”

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One of Colgan’s favorite photo walls is located in a Shell gas station in Hollywood. “It’s the last place you’d expect to see that sort of thing. The only face I recognize is Jim J. Bullock’s, you know the guy who used to be on ‘Hollywood Squares’ who’s doing car commercials now.”

Mark Locher, national publicist for the Screen Actors Guild in Hollywood, said, “Actors are self-born promoters. They carry photos with them in their cars. That’s part of the business, promoting yourself, having your face out there.”

Locher said businesses like to showcase the photos--whether the face belongs to Mel Gibson or not--"because everybody in this town wants to be associated with the glamour of the motion picture industry. Their photos bring the cachet of the motion picture world even if they are not the most famous actors or actresses in the world.”

And like most everyone who has a close encounter with the framed countenance, “I check out who’s on the walls just to see if I recognize any of the people” Locher said.

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So does casting agent Bob Morones (“Salvador,” “Platoon”) who has been in the feature film business for 17 years, six of those years spent at Universal Studios. He has cast a couple of films with the real people behind the head shots on the walls at The Good Neighbor Restaurant near Universal. Not long ago, while eating breakfast, the photos of two unknown actors grabbed his attention.

“I thought to myself, ‘She’s a good idea and he’s a good idea’ ” for roles in a movie. “I wrote their names down and one guy got the part,” he said.

Anthony (Tony) Fanara, manager of Palermo’s Restaurant in Los Feliz, says photo-filled walls are good for business.

“Customers like to see where movie stars go eat and what they’re like. Maybe people come here because some stars come here. Maybe they hope one of them will walk in,” he said.

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Among his most famous diners is Pee-wee Herman, “who comes in at least once a week” and whose autographed photo raves about the pizza. Other celebrities on Palermo’s walls include Henry Winkler, Dick Clark, Valerie Bertinelli and Tony Orlando.

“If they don’t eat here, their picture doesn’t go up,” Fanara said.

But it’s the unknowns that elicit the most comments from customers, Fanara said, looking at mugs of Robert Leighton, Gary Bolen, Elisha Choice, Melody Santangelo and a dog whose name escaped him.

Fanara recalled Palermo’s first glossy.

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“That’s him,” he said, pointing to Louie Novoa’s photo. “ ‘Can I put my picture up there?’ he asked. He wasn’t really popular then. He danced on ‘American Bandstand.’ He’s trying to get a really big role now,” Fanara added.

Steve Cohenshad, owner of Burton Way Cleaners in Beverly Hills, is proud of his collection of 30 star shots, which includes customers Cathy Lee Crosby, who pops in regularly, and Jermaine Jackson, who lives in the neighborhood.

Amid the celebrity shots are other photos of pretty people--Dolores Cantu, Patricia Duff and Garrett Lambert--who don’t score as high as Crosby or Jackson on the celebrity scale.

“Garrett wanted to give me the picture, so I took it. I really don’t know who he is or what he’s done, like TV or movies, but he looks good up there,” Cohenshad said.

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“Patricia Duff comes here a lot,” he said, pointing to her framed photo near Diahann Carroll’s. “Dolores Cantu does commercials. She’s a very pretty woman” and a regular customer who has starred in commercials.

One of Cohenshad’s favorite glossies is of a Beverly Hills socialite and charity fund-raiser who repeatedly hinted that her photo should grace the wall “because she is well known.” One day she walked in with one and Cohenshad hung it above two gum ball machines.

Cohenshad said he’s not picky about the star shots. “Psychologically I know that it makes them feel good. When customers come in here they ask about them and I tell them, ‘One of these days they’re going to be just as famous as Joan Collins.’ ”

And psychologically it keeps his cash register ringing. “I think people like to bring their clothes here because they know the stars come here also. They want to know when they come in but I never say.”

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Andrew Burg, owner of PIP Printing in Hollywood, said most of the 45 celebrity photos on his walls--the majority of whom are unknowns--have been easy to acquire.

“Actors need resumes printed, too,” he said, referring to the bios and photos he keeps on file of the people who are waiting to be discovered.

“I’ll ask them for a photograph or they’ll say, ‘I want my picture up there.’ ” That’s how Cindy Winkler (no relation to Henry) got her photo on PIP’s walls--twice.

Ditto for Gretchen Bering, who has theater work and Toyota commercials to her credit, Burg said. And “Julie Hayek, over there,” he said, pointing with a ruler “is a beauty queen.

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“I’ve got people on my wall with four- and five-line resumes and a lot of starlets who work as waitresses. But they’re real friendly people. I think it gives them a sense of pride to be up there and it makes them feel good when I ask them for their pictures,” he said.

One not shy at giving out her photograph is Maggi Cabrini, a 27-year-old aspiring actress, who travels with a bundle of photos in the trunk of her car. Recently, she had a new batch of photos printed--her hair swept over to one side. She walked into Motorless Building Supplies, Los Feliz Liquor, Ocean Co. and Graf Automobile Radio Specialist--where her fiance, Victor Obregon, works--and didn’t leave until her photo was plastered on their walls, she said.

“It wasn’t difficult to do,” said Cabrini, who says she has done “lots of stand-in work,” a commercial for Adidas sneakers, a pilot for a talk show, and is currently seeking representation.

“I kind of knew the people and they had asked for my photo anyway,” Cabrini said. “I think it’s great that I’m on walls because possibly someone important in show business might walk in and take notice.”

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Added her friend, Joe Ranieri Jr., 26, president of Motorless Building Supplies and a former actor: “It could happen. A producer might walk in and say, ‘That face. That face. Get me that girl!’ ”

“Yeah,” said Cabrini, “That would be real nice” but until then she’ll settle for hanging on a wall with the Skipper from “Gilligan’s Island.”


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