Hollywood Walk Of Fame: Stories Behind The Stars

8 January 2015

Next time you are walking along the famous Hollywood Boulevard gazing underfoot at the seemingly endless roll-call of stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, you might find yourself asking questions.

Whose idea was this and how many stars are there? Why does one movie star have one and another does not?

Naturally, there is a story behind every plaque. A life lived, or still living. Scandal, adventure or even a bit of mystery.

 Hollywood Boulevard street sign The way to the stars (Getty)

 

If you've never seen the Hollywood Walk of Fame in person, you've almost certainly seen it in photographs and magazines. The Walk of Fame is not a commercial attraction you have to buy tickets for, but a public footpath open 24 hours a day. There are no official tours and unofficial tours are discouraged.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame is a project of the City of Los Angeles and operated through The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce who work with The Hollywood Historic Trust, a non-profit agency, to maintain and preserve the walk. The first selection committee formed in 1956 included such studio men as Cecil B. DeMille, Samuel Goldwyn and Walt Disney.


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The first of 1,558 stars were laid in 1958 after considerable legal wrangling over taxes and a couple of controversial names including Charlie Chaplin. In the 1960s the Walk of Fame fell into disrepair and it wasn't until 1968 before a new star was added.

The most obvious question then is how do celebrities get their own star, and who decides?

Here's the interesting bit. Anyone can nominate a star for inclusion as long as that star agrees and says so in a letter. A date is then set for the ceremony. So if someone is not there, it's usually because no one has nominated them and filled out the form. It's also possible that they were nominated but not selected or, if they were selected, their ceremony date hasn't yet been set.

Even stars who have been selected are often not on the boulevard. After Barbra Streisand failed to appear at her unveiling in 1976, the committee made it a rule that stars must attend the ceremony in person. George Clooney and John Denver don't have stars because they declined to appear, while Julia Roberts and Clint Eastwood just didn't want a star. Period.

 Hollywood street sign The name of fame (Getty)

 

Stars are selected across five categories: Motion Pictures, Live Theatre/Performance, Television, Recording and Radio. A committee from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce then decides who gets one.

How much does a star cost? Once a star has been selected a fee of $30,000 is levied to install the 136kg plaque. This fee was started back in the '80s ($2500 at the time) because the public tax levy was so controversial. Fees are usually paid by the star's film studio or record company, but fan clubs and sponsors often pay too.

About 200 nominations are received every year and some 20 are selected for stars. Roughly every two weeks a new star is installed in a ceremony that is attended by the star, or in the case of a posthumous star, by relatives. The public can view these ceremonies for free.

There are lots of fun and interesting stories attached to the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Scandals and controversies often change how we feel about certain stars, while others are just forgotten as time passes.

 apollo 11 moon footprint The Apollo 11 crew left a footprint on the moon - and star on The Walk (Getty)

 

Sometimes stars are selected outside the formal five categories and this can often lead to argument. For example, Muhammad Ali was granted a star because boxing was considered a live performance. His star, ironically, is the only one standing upright because the famous black boxer didn't want anyone walking on his name.

All four Apollo 11 astronauts were installed on a single plaque because of the overwhelming success of the live television broadcast from the moon in 1968 even though many thought this was stretching the boundaries too far. How about basketball star, Magic Johnson then? He got his star because he owns a theatre chain in his own name.

Stars have been stolen, damaged and vandalised too. Most recently, Bill Cosby's star has been the defaced due to allegations of misconduct, but it's more common to see acts of dedication and mourning after the death of a star.

busy los angeles street The Hollywood fast lane (Getty)

 

A recent outpouring of grief was shown for Robin Williams with the star's plaque piled high with wreaths, candles and other offerings. Gregory Peck's star was stolen using sophisticated pavement saws in 2005 and while it was quickly replaced, Mr Peck's original plaque remains missing.

Politics unavoidably comes into play too. Charlie Chaplin was knocked back originally because of a Right-Wing smear campaign and allegations of an affair. Union activist and singer, Paul Robeson, was another.

A star doesn't have to be living to be nominated because a posthumous award is made very year. But a star doesn't even have to have ever lived in a mortal sense. Mickey Mouse, Kermit the Frog, Bugs Bunny and Godzilla all have stars while dogs Strongheart, Lassie, and Rin Tin Tin earned one too.

 star wars walk of fame Famous characters set in concrete - not all receive a star (Getty)

 

Misspellings are more common than you might think and Dick Van Dyke (spelled Vandyke), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (spelled Luis) and tough guy Don Haggerty's star was originally spelled 'Dan'. When the plaque was removed for correction, another actor (the real) Dan Haggerty also received one. This started an urban legend that his was the first star 'removed' from the walk. Truth is, no star has ever been 'dishonoured'.

Some Australians are featured on the Hollywood Walk of Fame too. It's no surprise to learn that Errol Flynn, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe and Olivia Newton-John have their own stars, but did you know that Leon Errol, Clyde Cook, Helen Reddy and John Farrow also have stars.

The Mentalist's Simon Baker is the most recent Aussie recipient of a star, while notable omissions are Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Rick Springfield, Air Supply, Paul Hogan and Peter Allen.

So if you want your star on the famous walk, just ask their permission, fill out the form, be ready to stump up 30,000 dollars and take your chances on selection. It's about one in ten.

Roderick Eime

Rod began his adventures at the age of two, slipping his harness and making a run for it from his ever-suffering mother while in Adelaide’s busy Central Market. While she recovered him numerous times thereafter, he’s now been on the loose for more than four decades. His travels may be less haphazard, but they are still often driven by spontaneity and an inextinguishable quest for something. During his many escapades, he has flown, driven, walked, rode and sailed millions of kilometres across every meridian, every ocean, lots of rivers and more than 70 countries.