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It Still Leaves an Impression : It may be tacky, but the allure of post-riot Hollywood Boulevard remains a magnet to the masses, drawing star-struck tourists from near and far.

August 30, 1992|MATHIS CHAZANOV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Welcome to Hollywood, dear tourists. What shall we see on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams? Let's visit the forecourt of the Chinese Theatre, once Grauman's, now Mann's, where the footprints, handprints, hoof prints and eyeglass prints of the famous and forgotten are cast in concrete.

This is one of the few genuine tourist attractions in Hollywood, which is said to attract 14 million visitors a year--a figure that includes the Universal Studios tour, which is really in North Hollywood.

We recently spent a few hot August days along the boulevard, seeking a tourist's perspective of Hollywood in this post-riot summer. We found it as tacky as ever--but also endearing. The out-of-towners were there in good number, little fazed by the spring cataclysm as they mingled with the street people, the bikers and the Scientologists in faux-Navy uniforms, all wandering amid run-down old buildings and flashy new ones.

The Chinese is one of the few tourist attractions that costs less than a movie ticket. In fact, it doesn't cost anything. And best of all, it's real.

Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery actually squished their own shoes into the wet concrete on Jan. 31, 1931, and the very same block of concrete is still there.

A Japanese tourist reads out Humphrey Bogart's tough-guy tribute to Grauman--"Sid May You Never Die--Till I Kill You." He laughs and takes a picture.

Look, those are John Wayne's little cowboy boots and his big fist, and John Barrymore's profile, and Jimmy Durante's nose--"Dis is My Schnozzle--I wish I had a million of 'em."

Now we follow the crowd to summon up the ghost of Marilyn in her high heels, the imprint of her hands blackened by the sweat of thousands of pilgrims.

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The Blonde One wanted to leave other marks too, when it was her turn to be immortalized along with Jane Russell on June 26, 1953.

"I suggested that Jane lean over the wet cement and that I sit down in it . . . but my idea was vetoed," she said, according to a souvenir booklet, "Hollywood's Chinese Theatre," by Stacey Endres and Robert Cushman.

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Today, girls and women follow each other without a break, kneeling, sprawling, squatting, crouching for a photo with the marks of the goddess.

"For me it is great to see, for example, the feet of Marilyn Monroe," explains Ursel Muller, an office worker at a Mercedes-Benz plant near Heidelberg, Germany. "When I see the film on TV, I know Marilyn Monroe is dead, but here she was standing when she was alive."

And it's all still there .

It's a funny kind of place, the Chinese, especially viewed from the back, looming alone in a desert of parking lots. As curving walls bounce the sound, the air fills with a buzz of accents. From the American heartland, from Japan, Germany and England, all drowned out by the regular blare of a tape hawking guided tours of the stars' homes.

Here's a busload of visitors who've come to root for Texas A & M. What do they think of Hollywood?

"It's dirty," says Karen Meekma, an accounts officer for a bank in Bryan, Tex. "It's nothing what I expected, that's for sure. It's just not as glamorous as I thought."

Harsh? Perhaps, but some Aggies see with a milder eye.

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"I like it," says Dorothy Holtkamp of College Station, Tex., adding that, "in Texas we're cleanness freaks." She gestures around at the souvenir shops, the Marilyn Monroe impersonator, the man hawking free tickets to today's taping of the "Tonight Show," the clown collecting money for Children's Hospital. "Without what you see here, it would lose its charm."

At the booth for Starline Tours, a gloomy clerk slumps in the window. A hand-scrawled sign advises: "No Refunds."

We ignore the warning and take the bait. Why not? It only costs $26 a person, tax included.

And who's got that kind of money to spend on two hours crammed into the back of a mini-van?

British tourists, apparently. Four of them came along on our trip, which quickly left the tackiness of Hollywood for the lush greenery of Sunset Boulevard, curving elegantly into Beverly Hills and beyond to Bel-Air.

For $26 you don't get a lot of celebrity sightings. On this day, we don't get any. We drove past Lucy's old house. Did she wave, bending over to pick up the newspaper in her bathrobe, her hair in curlers? No. Lucy is dead, sadly enough, and so are most of the people whose houses, or former houses, are on the tour.

"It was fascinating to hear the commentary," said Judy Gilpin of Devon, England. "You don't learn a lot if you're driving along by yourself."

You've got to keep your eyes open, says our driver and guide, Allen Katz, formerly of Miami.

"It's definitely a good idea to check who's driving all those Mercedeses, who's stuck in traffic," he says.

Not only that, but Madonna likes to jog around Sunset Plaza, says Katz, an aspiring director, and he saw Goldie Hawn the day before, and Danny Kaye lived in this house before he died and Jayne Mansfield lived in that house before she ran into a truck and was decapitated. Madonna is still alive, thankfully.

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