There’s a peculiar gait -- call it the Hollywood Boulevard Shuffle -- that you can identify almost as surely as the Zombie Plod.
The millions of tourists who make their way every year along the Hollywood Walk of Fame don’t always step briskly to their destinations. That’s because the sidewalk is their destination.
They stroll a bit, stop and look at a famous name underfoot, embedded in brass letters in a pink terrazzo star, go back a few paces to look, to see … yes, was that really him? … snap a few pictures with the phone or a real camera, and then move on, and repeat the process a few stars away.
Yes, drunks pee on them, and yes, people drop sodas on them and grind melting chewing gum into them. But still …
Nearly 3,000 stars and more than 50 years on, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, much imitated but never equaled, has made these five-pointed underfoot plaques on the Walk of Fame into what people think of as the closest thing to a permanent firmament, a galaxy, a constellation in a Hollywood that is more figurative than fixed on a map.
I went to my fourth Walk of Fame ceremony this week, which was the first one where I hadn’t actually had to speak.
This one was for my friend Gale Anne Hurd, the “most successful female producer in the world,” said Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leron Gubler, as he introduced her -- only to have Gale’s former filmmaking partner, James Cameron, put in his own version a few moments later: “I’m knocking off the qualifier -- one of the biggest producers in the business,” he said of a woman who “faced down the old boys’ club.”
I learned things about Gale on Wednesday. I already knew that she is a fourth-generation Angelena, and that her mother and aunts had worked at Culver City’s local factory, which happened to be MGM, but not that her grandmother had been Merle Oberon’s double.
It’s one thing to know someone; it’s another thing to hear her credits, or his, and Gale’s run from her start as Roger Corman’s executive assistant to producing the “Terminator” films, “Aliens,” “Armageddon,” “The Incredible Hulk,” and as executive producer of the AMC series “The Walking Dead.” She’s also on the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- the Oscars outfit -- and ardent on behalf of promoting women in entertainment. And, as Cameron pointed out, because the actress playing the character Vasquez had already gone home that day, it was Gale’s hand pulling the trigger of the 9 mm in that scene in “Aliens.”
She is, as “The Walking Dead” star Andrew Lincoln pointed out, the woman who shows up serene and cool among the mobs of costumed fanboys at Comic-Con, always with some new iteration of sci-fi.
Some fans, boys and girls, were there at the ceremony, waving their “The Walking Dead” goods and clamoring for autographs from the front-of-camera and behind-the-camera folks, the ones Gale thanked in her remarks: “I’m here because of your talent and your genius.”
Her mentor, Corman, was there among her friends, as was a long-ago Stanford professor, much of the cast of “The Walking Dead,” uber-producer Mike Medavoy and director Lesli Linka Glatter, who’s had turns at TV with “The West Wing,” “Mad Men” and now an episode of “The Walking Dead.”
Gale’s star is between Buster Keaton’s and Peter Lorre’s, the deadpan comic and the sinister character actor who often winds up dead.
At ceremonies past, I’d been one of the speakers at the star dedication ceremonies -- one for my friend, actor Michael York, and for another friend, venerable Times film critic Charles Champlin. I’d also spoken at the star unveiling when the Los Angeles Times got a semi-official star for entertainment coverage, and for encouraging the movie industry in L.A. at a time in the early 1900s when “the best people” thought it was lowbrow entertainment for the unwashed and unlettered. (The Times has a Walk of Fame app.)
Almost since the Walk of Fame began more than 50 years ago -- not incrementally but with the jump-start installation of scores of stars for performers like Marlon Brando and Joanne Woodward -- the folks in charge of it have been lobbied relentlessly by studios and press agents, sometimes successfully. Receiving a star is a pricey undertaking, with a cost of an estimated $30,000 for installation and maintenance.
But hardly anyone says no.
The selection process is more transparent than it has been in the past, and as those who do the Hollywood Boulevard Shuffle may have noted, there are some holdouts. Actors of the magnitude of Clint Eastwood and George Clooney have reportedly refused the quid pro quo: to get a star, you have to show up at the ceremony.
And there are close-call stars, like the one for the Apollo 11 moon-landing astronauts, at Hollywood and Vine, awarded for their contributions to television (the live broadcast of the moon landing) and acknowledged by Hollywood’s “honorary mayor,” the late Johnny Grant, to have been a stretch, and a star for basketball player Magic Johnson for his chain of movie theaters.
The city owns the Hollywood sign and the Walk of Fame, but the Hollywood Chamber owns the trademarks and uses royalties for upkeep. It was the chamber that realized the value of the crumbling Hollywood sign and the Walk of Fame in the 1970s and stepped in to find people of means who were willing to save the sign and support the Walk of Fame.
MGM used to brag that it had “More stars than there are in the heavens.” But even in its glory days, it couldn’t have matched the numbers now underfoot on the Walk of Fame.