Sidewalk Shrine to Celebrities Twinkles With Stars
They say the streets of Hollywood are paved with stardust, but one stretch can claim more than its share.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame, a sidewalk shrine to the immortals of the entertainment industry, draws an estimated 10 million stargazers annually from all over the world.
Nearly 2,300 five-pointed medallions radiate underfoot from the fabled crossroads of Hollywood and Vine, paying tribute to celebrities big and small.
Onlookers sometimes puzzle over unfamiliar names or notice the absence of a favorite marquee topper. The brass-and-terrazzo stars don’t fall randomly out of the sky, say the people in charge. There are rules that must be followed. But the results can be a little unpredictable.
Question: Who qualifies to be included on the Walk of Fame?
Answer: A star recipient must have five years of professional achievement in one of five categories: motion pictures, television, live theater, recording or radio.
The walk embraces an eclectic mix. Legends such as Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor, Bob Hope, Orson Welles, Nat King Cole and Elvis Presley share space with more topical celebrities, including TV personality Leeza Gibbons, game show host Pat Sajak, the band Journey, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, “Baywatch” star David Hasselhoff and sports broadcaster Jim Gray.
Q: Who are some “missing” luminaries?
A: Clint Eastwood, Julia Roberts, Robert Redford, Howard Hughes, Mel Gibson, Jane Fonda and Francis Ford Coppola do not have stars.
Q: Why do some people have stars and others don’t?
A: The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the Walk of Fame, chooses one dozen to two dozen new star recipients a year.
Celebrities must agree to be nominated. Some, such as Julia Roberts, do not want to be on the Walk of Fame, said Mary Lou Dudas, selection committee member and a former A&M; Records vice president. “They say, ‘Why would I want my name on a sidewalk to be walked on?’ But, on the other hand, it’s something that is here to stay.”
In some cases, celebrities are chosen but don’t follow through. The cast-in-concrete rule is that the honoree, if still alive, must attend a dedication within five years. About 40 celebrities have been too busy to pick a dedication date.
Singer John Denver, who died in 1997, was selected in 1982 but never arranged to appear. Nor did singer Paul McCartney, who was chosen in 1993.
Some celebrities have more than one star. Director Alfred Hitchcock, for example, has two stars, one for his achievements in motion pictures and the other for his work in television. Gene Autry is the only person to have a star in each of the five categories.
Q: Are there exceptions to the five qualifying categories?
A: Officially, no. But sometimes there are interesting interpretations. Classical music composer Ignacy Paderewski has a star, as do Thomas Edison (who helped invent motion pictures), Muhammad Ali (for live performance) and Dear Abby (Abigail Van Buren, who was widely featured on radio).
The Apollo 11 astronauts have round “stars” at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. They were honored in the television category for the first moon landing, which longtime Walk of Fame emcee Johnny Grant acknowledged is a bit of a stretch. A former Walk of Fame official who knew one of the astronauts was behind the choice, he said.
“It’s made it difficult,” Grant added, “because then people want Orville Redenbacher because his popcorn is in all the theaters.”
But even top celebrities can have a tough time getting on the Walk of Fame. The committee wanted to confer a star on basketball great Magic Johnson, Grant said, but “we had to wait until he became a theater owner.” The precedent was that Sid Grauman, of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, had a star.
Q: Does the honoree have to be a real person? Can dead people be nominated?
A: Big Bird, Donald Duck, Godzilla, Rin Tin Tin and even a sports team, the Harlem Globetrotters, have stars.
Traditionally, only one posthumous star has been granted annually, causing some dead celebrities to wait in line. John Belushi didn’t get a star until 2004, 10 years after he was nominated and 22 years after his death.
Q: Who does the nominating?
A: A celebrity cannot nominate himself or herself, but anyone else can. Often a fan club, studio, agent or spouse submits the application. The official one-page form asks for a list of the candidate’s qualifications. Nominees number about 200 annually.
Q: Who chooses the recipients?
A: The Hollywood chamber has a five-member selection committee that meets once a year in June. Until 1999, members’ names were kept secret to discourage lobbying. That changed because of accusations the medallions were “bought” or the result of back-room deals.
Besides Grant, a former celebrity TV interviewer, and Dudas, the current members are Earl Lestz, retired president of Paramount Studio Group; Stanley Spero, retired broadcast station executive; and David Green, senior vice president of Nederlander, an entertainment promotion firm.
Each member selects about 10 nominees. Awardees are chosen by majority vote. “It’s very congenial. It’s very democratic,” Dudas said.
Last month the committee announced 24 new stars for 2006, including Charlize Theron, William Hurt and Judge Judy (Judith Sheindlin).
Q: Do important people lobby for their favorites?
A: Constantly, said Grant, who has been the host of every Walk of Fame induction ceremony for a quarter of a century.
“Yesterday I was lobbied by the mayor’s office and two city councilmen,” he said earlier this year. “I get lobbied by congressmen. Someone came up to me at a funeral the other day. No place is sacred.”
President Bush, while governor of Texas in 1998, wrote Grant a detailed letter backing the nomination of musician Freddy Fender. Committee members say such politicking has little effect. “I tell everyone, I’m only one vote,” Grant said.
For the curious: Fender was voted a star that year.
Q: Is it true that the recipient pays for the award?
A: No. However, the person or entity nominating the recipient must pay a $15,000 fee to cover the placement of the star in concrete, professional security at the ceremony and future upkeep.
Q: What happens at the induction ceremony?
A: The event is open to the public. Grant gives a speech, the celebrity says a few words and a tasseled cutout of a star is pulled away to reveal the plaque, already embedded in the sidewalk.
The mood varies from playful to serious. Ed McMahon, who got his wish to be installed next to irreverent imbiber W.C. Fields, arrived in a Budweiser wagon drawn by Clydesdales. Jack Nicholson “got very emotional,” Grant said, telling the crowd that the first thing he did as a young man arriving in Hollywood was stroll the Hollywood Walk of Fame and wish that someday his star would be there.
One dedication was a bit star-crossed. The medallion for the singing Andrews Sisters was to be placed Jan. 17, 1994, the day of the predawn Northridge earthquake. In true industry fashion, the Chamber of Commerce decided the show must go on. Surviving sisters Patty and Maxene sang “Roll Out the Barrel.”
“Someone remarked, ‘That wasn’t an earthquake. That was LaVerne up in heaven, mad because she couldn’t be here,’ ” Grant said.
Q: How are the locations chosen?
A: Sidewalk space next to Grauman’s theater is for show-biz royalty. Others choose their own spot, aided by chamber Vice President Ana Martinez-Holler. “I look at their bio,” she said. “We put Mike Myers, who played Austin Powers, in front of the International Love Boutique. We got Drew Barrymore onto the same block as about four of her relatives. For Oscar people, I try for in front of the Kodak Theatre.”
Q: When did the Walk of Fame start?
A: The first eight plaques, including those for Joanne Woodward, Burt Lancaster, Ronald Colman and Olive Borden, were unveiled Feb. 8, 1960. Grant said Woodward is often singled out as the first awardee because she was the first to pose for photographers with her star.
Q: Is there an official list of the stars?
A: The chamber website, www.hollywoodchamber.net, lists stars alphabetically, with locations.