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So Socal / Goes Hollywood

The Stars of Star Maps

August 25, 1996|Mary Melton

You're either embarrassed by them or embarrassed to buy them. They are advertised by crudely painted sandwich boards and are as ubiquitous as the palms. They lead you to vacant lots and burnt-out chimney stacks. They entice you down a long driveway to disappointment in the form of imposing iron gates and manicured lawns dotted by armed response signs. They guide you through Bel-Air streets choked with braking minivans and German tourists on foot and not sidewalk. They don't distinguish between legend and upstart, as both the faded manor of Lana Turner and a rental trashed by Shannen Doherty carry equal weight. But for the throngs who flood Hollywood each year eager to catch a glimpse of homespun glamour, they are their lone, sorrowful hope. The maps to stars' homes are as much an archeological dig as an atlas.

Their history is shrouded. More than one map maker claims the title of "oldest" or "official." There are numerous references to a father who sold the first one, or to an inherited copyright or to a long-standing claim to that busy Sunset intersection. Each map tends to cover the "three Bs": Brentwood, Bel-Air and Beverly Hills. A few toss in a Malibu sidebar. All are fraught with spelling errors or cheesy clip art.

Most tourists opt for the pricier maps sold by street vendors, usually labeled "Movie Stars' Homes," the most common of which is published by a company with an ever-changing name and a usually disconnected phone number. At souvenir shops and LAX kiosks, the competition rests between California Cassette Driving Tour's "Map and Guide to Movie Star Homes & Hangouts" and Rockwell Enterprises' "Movie Stars Homes." Call the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for a map, though, and they will refer you to Rockwell. Walk into the Mann's Chinese Theater gift shop and ask for their recommendation, and they, too, point to Rockwell's garish cover.

Fifteen miles from Bel-Air, Rockwell Enterprises makes its headquarters in a Carson warehouse. Rockwell, founded in 1967, originally sold coffee-vending and map-dispensing machines; it went into the map distribution business when gas stations stopped giving maps away. In 1991, the company bought the rights to one of the "original" movie star home guides. Suddenly Rockwell, with five full-time cartographers, was faced with questions that Rand-McNally never had to entertain.

To be or not to be listed on Rockwell's star map is a peculiar barometer of celebrity. The person who establishes this measure is Frank Giovinazzo, a jovial, 52-year-old ex-New Yorker. Beefy, bald with a full mustache and gold-rimmed aviators, he has been the company's president since 1990. On a recent afternoon in his small office, he was joined by Al Sarfati, at 38 less bald but also mustachioed, who wears a short-sleeved white shirt embroidered with "West Coast Map Co." Sarfati is one of Rockwell's chief distributors of star maps; his business card also identifies him as a purveyor of pepper spray.

"The star map? You have to go back, what, at least 40 years, Al?" Giovinazzo asks. Sarfati nods from the other side of Giovinazzo's oversize desk. "There was a little old man on Sunset," he begins, "who probably started doing star maps in the '20s or '30s. His map looks like something done for the most part by hand. As far as I know, he was the only one until the '70s." Then, he says, a small-time actor named Hurst Amyx devised a map for retailers. "By doing that," Sarfati explains, "he made a movie star map available to the tourist at reasonable prices, instead of getting chiseled out on the street." Amyx assembled a crew of college students and secretaries to scour real estate records and newspaper clippings and pinpoint 400 star addresses. A decade ago, Sarfati bought Amyx's distribution route and another entrepreneur acquired the rights to the map, which Rockwell later bought out. "It became our map." Giovinazzo says. "We made enhancements on it, but for decades really, up until 1993 or '94 it's changed very, very little. If it works, why fix it?" I wonder aloud if replacing some of the older stars with contemporary ones might not be a good idea. Honestly, I explain, I don't know who Freeman Gosden is. "That makes two of us," Giovinazzo says, with a robust laugh. "You've read more names on that map in the last 30 seconds than I've read in my whole life." But doesn't he think the inclusion of Freeman Gosden might date the map just a bit? "Very rarely does anybody ask for the young stars," he replies. "I would never, ever do one that was geared toward young people. Right now Sandra Bullock is hot, OK. Two years ago this girl that played in that movie with Kevin Costner, "No Way Out"? She was the hottest star going, and then . . ." he shrugs his shoulders and lifts his palms in the air. "Like Margot Kidder," Sarfati notes.

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