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‘Mr. Star Shine’ Keeps Hollywood’s Walk of Fame Bright

A year and a half ago, as film and television production continued its exodus from Hollywood and many of the aging offices and storefronts along Hollywood Boulevard sat fractured or condemned by the Northridge quake or by MTA construction, John Peterson dreamed up an idea.

“I’d clean up Hollywood’s stars,” he decided.

He was homeless and unemployed, having lost his job as a television repairman. He walked on crutches, having lost a leg to amputation. But he had a vision: He would become the guardian of Hollywood Boulevard’s fabled walk.

Which is why today you can find 48-year-old Peterson--better known on the boulevard as “Mr. Star Shine"--making his rounds.

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Vine Street was his laboratory. He began experimenting with various cleaning solutions. Once he settled on a formula, he became a boulevard fixture, on the job each day, toting plastic bags filled with personal effects and his cleaners and his rags.

“See how this soft-scrub bleach just polished that brass?” he says lovingly. “It even lightens the color” of the block that frames the star.

One day, he’s shining the star of the late comedian Rochester, the next he’s hard at work on Desi Arnaz. He lightly runs his heavily callused fingers, impervious to bleach and solvents, over the pink terrazzo. “See how that color comes up?”

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The city comes by and washes away the grime and soda pop stains every third day, he says, but “they let the stars air-dry. Without this kind of care, these chemicals, oxidation starts in and turns the brass dark.”

Peterson was born in West Virginia, came west and worked for a TV repair firm for nearly 20 years until the shop went under. A congenital disease required the amputation of the lower portion of his leg.

He says he receives no public assistance, but survives on the kindness of strangers, accepting donations from tourists, the curious and some appreciative area merchants. He can afford a small storage unit, and has enough money to eat and to purchase the cleaners and solvents needed to make the brass shine, he says.

“You know, it’s not beneath my dignity to sit on the ground and clean these stars,” he says. “Some merchants appreciate it.”

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A few businesses do their own cleaning, and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce sponsors a monthly “Adopt-a-Star” program, in which volunteers polish their favorite star Saturday mornings.

Mr. Star Shine estimates that that effort covers 10% of the roughly 2,000 stars.

“I can only finish a couple of blocks of stars in a day,” he says. He circulates in a patchwork fashion, his hours dictated by the heat of the day and the number of conversations he gets into as he works. He returns as often as possible to a section featuring the stars of Grace Kelly, Arnaz and ‘40s-era singer Kenny Baker, where he and the merchants have taken a liking to each other.

Mr. Star Shine may have to change his routine. Police have warned him that Los Angeles’ new city panhandling ordinance, which goes into effect next week to outlaw “abusive” soliciting, applies to him as well.

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“They told me I can’t have a cup out to accept donations. This will make it hard.”

(Technically, the law bans panhandling that includes touching, following, swearing at or threatening people who say no. It also bans it near banks and ATMs, at bus stops, in parking lots and any place where more than three people are gathered at a time.)

Peterson doesn’t consider himself a panhandler. “The guy that plays music, or washes windows for a dollar, he’s like me,” he says. “He wants to do a bit of work for a donation. If you’re doing a service, or a performance, you should be allowed to accept donations.”

Would he consider another trade?

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Mr. Star Shine wipes the sweat and grit from his face.

“Maybe I can get enough to move back to West Virginia. I can go to Myrtle Beach, sell T-shirts, maybe. . . . But this walk, these stars are unique in all the world.”

His almost-always-serious expression changes.

“I’d love to have a real job,” he says with a smile. “Doing this.”

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