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In Hollywood, a Facade Underfoot

At the end of a week when the American Film Institute’s 100 best movie list was setting husband against wife and brother against brother, I heard that Jerry Rubin had gone Hollywood, and I got seriously worried.

To understand why, you must understand Jerry. He is a full-time peace nag whose days of outrage calendar runs from the anniversary of Three Mile Island to Earth Day to a no-toy-gun Santa season.

So finding that Jerry was embroiled in protest over whether the Beatles’ 300-pound star will ever be mortared into a Hollywood Walk of Fame sidewalk--I was as flummoxed by that as by the news that Arianna Huffington attended Larry Flynt’s wedding over the weekend (although not, as you might have feared, as the bride).

Had the bay healed itself? Had India and Pakistan dumped their nursery of nukes into the Arabian Sea? Had Charlton Heston urged Americans to disarm themselves of anything with more muzzle velocity than a peashooter? Was there nothing left to protest?

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As it turns out, Jerry Rubin, master of the sound bite scold, was seduced and hornswoggled, like the rest of us, by the notion that a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame matters.

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There is no Beatles star on the Walk because there are no Beatles who care to show up to seeit put there. Out-of-towners who pace the starry pavement may not know this, but for a spot on the Walk of Fame, as for certain prize drawings, you must be present to win.

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This, some simply will not do, more power to them. Surely no one believes Meryl Streep, Woody Allen or Sam Shepard are starless because they cannot match the artistic standards set by Arsenio Hall, John Tesh or Rin-Tin-Tin.

The birth of a star involves a nomination, a secret committee and a selection that sometimes coincides with a new movie release as blatantly as a McDonald’s theme meal tie-in.

Someone also has to pay upwards of $7,000 for costs, including star (parts and labor). And at the unveiling, the honoree must be willing to kneel (literally) and kiss the ring (figuratively) of the self-inaugurated honorary mayor of Hollywood, the rotund and orotund Johnny Grant.

It is his face you see alongside the performer’s in the photo ops. His is a type that once peopled the L.A. landscape from the real estate land rush into the 1960s--an unwearying booster and promoter of all things Hollywood. “I am,” he declared a while back, “a child of hype.”

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His years as a vice president at KTLA may have something to do with the goodly number of KTLA stars on the walk. Grant’s own star shares a place in Block 1--which runs in front of Mann’s Chinese Theatre--with those of Garbo and Rathbone and Travolta.

It was Grant who smoothed matters seven years ago when state investigators found the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce was in over its head in very messy finances. A tentative settlement meant the chamber would give up control of the Walk of Fame and Hollywood sign, and the marketing and licensing bucks that flow therefrom.

The settlement was on the runway, but it never took off. What did take off was a plane to Sacramento, where Grant, who has emceed events for every GOP president since Eisenhower, met with his longtime friend, Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren. A new settlement emerged thereafter: The chamber would repay the trust accounts over 10 years. And it would retain control of the city-owned landmarks--a curious arrangement, as if the capital’s landscapers owned the licensing rights to the Washington Monument.

The name again is the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Not art--commerce.

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Two days after AFI fanfared its 100 best list, the Walk of Fame named its stars for 1999. Poor Jodie Foster. Poor Sidney Poitier. They must be crushed; overlooked again.

(Twenty years ago the chamber denied a posthumous star to Paul Robeson. Credentials not up to snuff, they hinted. Peer recognition lacking. After a protest from the 35,000-member Screen Actors Guild, Robeson--the first black American to sing at the Met, veteran of a dozen films and, oh yes, a Communist party member--suddenly got his star.)

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Who does any of this homespun hype hurt? No one, except those who mistake a marble star the color of a Junior Leaguer’s lipstick for a Nobel Prize. But if that sidewalk has room for Billy Graham and the Apollo 11 astronauts, I may ask Jerry Rubin to protest for stars for Abraham Zapruder, who shot the most famous few seconds of film in history, and Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who produced and starred in a televised spectacle far worse than Jerry Springer’s.

Patt Morrison’s column appears on Wednesdays. Her e-mail address is patt.morrison@latimes.com


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