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Billy Graham Now a Hollywood Star : Religion: The world's best-known evangelist gives the film capital some advice as his plaque is dedicated on the Walk of Fame.

October 16, 1989|SHERYL STOLBERG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sunday afternoon--the Lord's day--on Hollywood Boulevard:

The marquee at the X Theaters advertised a double feature, "Sensual Fire" and "Fantastic Orgy."

Members of the British band Pop Will Eat Itself, in Los Angeles for their first American tour, went out for breakfast at 2 p.m., dressed mostly in leather, all in black.

A busload of suit-clad Korean businessmen snapped photos.

And a wavy-haired, straight-talking preacher named Billy Graham spoke the gospel to more than 2,500 of the faithful who had gathered in front of Mann's Chinese Theater to see him take his place on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, right between actress Judy Holliday and Italian opera singer Beniamino Gigli.

"I feel somewhat out of place because I'm not sure that a clergyman belongs here," the world's best-known evangelist confessed shortly before his star was unveiled. "Since I'm the only clergyman . . . I feel a little lonely out there."

But this was Hollywood, and the show had to go on.

Johnny Grant, chairman of the Walk of Fame Committee and the familiar deep-voiced host of the star ceremonies, got things rolling at 2:30 p.m. with a few one-liners and the words: "Here today on Hollywood Boulevard we honor Billy Graham. I would like to see more of his likeness in Hollywood, especially on Hollywood Boulevard."

Graham, who is the first clergyman to be granted a star for his work as a minister--the Rev. James Cleveland received a star in 1981 for his gospel recordings--apparently agreed.

During his remarks to the crowd, the man who has used television, film and radio to rail against drugs, sex and violence was unafraid to give those in show biz some advice: "I would call upon the industry today to put more emphasis on moral and spiritual values."

And in these days of television ministry scandals, he wasted no time in pointing out to reporters that the symbol on his star is a small, old-time microphone, which signifies that he is being honored for his work in radio.

"They didn't want to identify me as a televangelist," he declared, adding, "I am not a televangelist."

Asked if he minded that his name would be permanently embossed on a boulevard that for some is synonymous with sin, the 70-year-old preacher didn't miss a beat.

"We're all sinners," he replied. "Everybody you meet all over the world is a sinner. The word sin means you've broken with the laws of God. We've all done that. So I couldn't condemn Hollywood Boulevard any more than any other place."

For Graham, Sunday's visit was a homecoming of sorts. It was Hollywood--or at least Los Angeles--that catapulted the farm-reared, Fuller brush salesman-turned-preacher to fame 40 years ago. In 1949, his "sin-smashing" tent revival meeting at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Hill Street captured the attention of the international media and, before long, the minister some then derisively called "Gabriel in gabardine" had become a household name.

By now, he has preached in every state and 84 countries, to more than 100 million people in person and countless others over the airwaves.

Among the many who turned out for Sunday's dedication was Shelley Medak of San Pedro, who was moved to tears when Graham gave her his autograph. "I'm just thanking God to meet a man of God in person," she said.

Officials at the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which bestows the stars, said Graham's crowd was more than five times as large as is usual for star dedications, although not as large as the crowd for pop music star Michael Jackson.

In placing Graham's star in front of the theater, chamber officials said they had given the minister a special place of honor. According to Grant, hundreds of stars (who shall remain nameless, he insisted) had sought the coveted spot, which is the next to last "empty star" in front of the famed movie house.

Of course, as actress Rhonda Fleming, wife of theater owner Ted Mann, noted, the placement of a minister's star along a boulevard like Hollywood can be a delicate task. "My star," she said, "is up the street, in front of the Pussycat Theatre."

ON THE RECORD 'I feel somewhat out of place because I'm not sure that a clergyman belongs here . . . I feel a little lonely out there.' --Evangelist Billy Graham, receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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