The sidewalk star, one of Hollywood's most venerable perks, is going corporate.
Long available to celebrities with $15,000 and a project to promote, a version of the iconic symbol will be given for the first time Thursday to a company: Disneyland is receiving the pink terrazzo-and-brass star in honor of the Anaheim theme park's 50th anniversary. In the wings are two other commercial-oriented stars: one honoring the Hollywood trade publication Variety for its 100th year in business and the other honoring its rival publication, the Hollywood Reporter, for its 75th.
The new stars won't actually be on the Walk of Fame, but their location on private property just mere inches away -- in Disneyland's case, in a storefront entryway -- position them close enough to enjoy bragging rights. And at $15,000 each, the price tag is a mere pittance for the publicity recipients generate at the unveiling ceremonies and every time a passerby looks down.
"These are not Walk of Fame stars," said Johnny Grant, the 82-year-old honorary mayor of Hollywood whose committee oversees the selection of Walk of Fame recipients. "It's an award of excellence. It will be a Walk of Fame-type star, but it will be on private property, not on the sidewalk. There is [a city] ordinance that you can't put commercial names on the sidewalk.... We want to honor these people, and I came up with this idea."
It was an idea, Grant said, that came to him after Disney approached him about the possibility of just such an honor. "You know how the PR game works," Grant said. "Hollywood is built on hype. Everything has got hyperbole attached to it. I said, 'OK, let's see how it can be worked out.' "
Although the walk has been used for years as a marketing tool to honor those who have made "significant contributions" to film, TV, radio, recording and live performances, Rick Jewell, a professor of film at the USC School of Cinema-Television, said it was just a matter of time before the walk became more of a crass enterprise.
"At least in the last 15 years or so, if not longer, somebody has had to put up money to get anybody's name on the Walk of Fame," Jewell said. "Basically, what film companies have been doing the last few years is if they have a big movie coming out, they'll pony up the dough to get someone a star so they get publicity that ties into that release."
To get a commercial star, Grant said, a company has to be connected in some way to Hollywood and have serviced the show business industry for at least 50 years. Walk of Fame officials concede they may be opening Pandora's box.
"The networks will want them -- everybody will want them," groaned Grant. "It may be too much for us."
Grant said that once word got out that Disneyland was getting a star near the Walk of Fame, a PR agency representing General Motors asked if the Detroit automaker could also get a star. "I said, 'Get out of here!' " Grant recalled. (Not enough of a Hollywood connection.)
Duncan Wardle, vice president for press and publicity for the Disneyland Resort, said Disneyland was "delighted and honored" to receive the star. Jeff Kuhlman, a spokesman for General Motors, said that, to his knowledge, the auto maker did not make a formal effort to earn a Walk of Fame star but added that "somebody might have been brainstorming" and made an informal inquiry that he was not alerted to.
Disneyland's star will be installed at the entrance to Disney's Soda Fountain and Studio Store, next to its historic El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.
Variety and the Hollywood Reporter will have their stars on private property at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, just off Hollywood Boulevard and near the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce building named after Grant.
Roger Ebert, film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, who last month received the 2,288th star on the Walk of Fame and whose TV show "Ebert & Roeper" is produced and distributed by Disney's Buena Vista Television, said the new stars reflect entertainment's bottom-line reality.
"Isn't every movie star in some sense a commercial enterprise? Aren't TV shows? If animals (Lassie) and cartoons (Bugs Bunny) can get stars, why not Disneyland?" he said via e-mail. "If you stop to think about what Disneyland has achieved and what a revolutionary idea it was to begin with, of course it deserve a star. Showbiz is not exactly a non-commercial enterprise; that's why they call it a 'business.' "
Dreams, hype intersect
For decades, the Walk of Fame has been a street of dreams, a place where young actors come and imagine what it would be like if they became a movie star and had their own names emblazoned in bronze on the stars at their feet. After all, they reason, Lucille Ball, Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, Bob Hope and Carole Lombard had to start somewhere.
The stars are bestowed by the chamber's selection committee, but a nonprofit organization called the Hollywood Historic Trust oversees their upkeep and stages the unveiling ceremonies.
Like Hollywood Boulevard itself, where tourists stream every day to buy tacky gifts, get tattooed, eat a sandwich or pose for pictures with a man in a Batman suit or a Charlie Chaplin look-alike, studio marketing departments often use the Walk of Fame ceremonies to hype their latest pictures.
Earlier this year, for instance, Sandra Bullock received her star the very same day her latest movie, "Miss Congeniality 2," was opening. Keanu Reeves received his star around the time his film "Constantine" was coming out, as did Renee Zellweger and her film "Cinderella Man."
Grant said the reason stars like to have their ceremonies coincide with a movie they have coming out is because "celebrities don't like to come down to do any kind of ceremony unless they have something to talk about, because somebody will say, 'What are you doing next?' If they don't have anything, it could be embarrassing to them."
Location is also key. Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon, Steven Spielberg, Nicole Kidman, Martin Scorsese, Anthony Hopkins, Kevin Costner, Harrison Ford and Billy Bob Thornton are among a select group whose stars grace the sidewalk at the entrance to the Kodak Theatre.
"The hottest spot to have a star right now is in front of the Kodak Theatre," said publicist Edward Lozzi. "That's because that's where the Oscars are held."
The only star that isn't on the sidewalk belongs to boxing legend Muhammad Ali. His star hangs on a wall just inside the entrance to the Kodak Theatre because, Grant said, Ali said it was against his religion to have people walking on him.
Ironically, two of the biggest stars in Hollywood -- Oscar winners Clint Eastwood and Dustin Hoffman -- do not have stars. Grant said Eastwood has been selected for a star but has never found time to attend, while Hoffman has never been sponsored.
Grant said the Walk of Fame receives between 200 and 300 applications a year. If a name is turned down, it is automatically reconsidered the following year, but after that it must be resubmitted. Grant, who represents the TV component on the committee, said the nominees are then sent to the full board of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for approval. The names then go to the city's Board of Public Works and the Los Angeles City Council for approval.
"This isn't somebody saying, 'Let's take somebody to lunch and get a star,' " Grant said.
Among the movie actors selected for Walk of Fame stars in 2006 are Annette Bening, Matthew Broderick, Holly Hunter, Nathan Lane, William Hurt, Steve Martin and Charlize Theron. Television personalities selected include KCBS-Channel 2 sportscaster Jim Hill, "Judge Judy" (Judith Sheindlin), producer David Milch, entertainment columnist Robert Osbourne, actor Ray Romano and game show personality Vanna White.
The cost of receiving a star is $15,000 -- typically paid by a sponsor, such as a movie studio. (Although the Disneyland star is not an official Walk of Fame star, it also cost $15,000.) Grant said $5,000 of that is earmarked for repairs. As recently as 1987, the cost of a star was only $1,500. But Grant said the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have resulted in higher costs of staging the ceremonies. "I have to put water barricades up now," he said.
As for the new commercial stars, Grant isn't sure how many more the Hollywood Historic Trust will approve.
"I don't see us doing a whole lot of them, because they all want to be adjacent to the Walk of Fame," Grant said. "There's not a lot of space to do many more."