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Hollywood Tries to Help Stars Shine

Tourism: Replacement of damaged plaques begins. Also, to end distracting suspicions, the names of selection committee members are revealed.

January 06, 1999|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hollywood civic leaders took an unusual step Tuesday to get to the root of two growing problems with their Walk of Fame.

First, they began replacing 1,500 damaged stars on the famed sidewalk attraction with new terrazzo marble bases.

And then--for the first time in the 40-year history of the Walk of Fame--they disclosed the names of those who decide just who does and who doesn't get honored with the 20 new stars that are installed annually.

Operators of the tourist-oriented Walk of Fame said they will begin asking fans to "adopt" their favorite star's star to help pay for the repairs to pink marble plaques that have been damaged by roots of fast-growing curbside ficus trees.

As for revealing the identity of the star committee: That's to put an end to "suspicions" about the Walk of Fame selection process, officials said.

The prominent suspicion has been that anyone willing to shell out enough money could have their own star.

"For many years the media has painted a picture of suspicion and back-room politics in the selection process," a notion "further espoused by a small group of community activists," said Johnny Grant, chairman of the committee, whose members are chosen by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

The identity of the selection committee has been kept secret since the Walk of Fame was begun in 1960. The confidentiality was necessary because of heavy lobbying by celebrities and studios when the first 1,500 stars were installed, he said.

Over the years the collection of stars has grown to 2,128, and fans have joined in the lobbying effort.

These days, as many as 300 entertainers are nominated each year for the 20 new stars.

"We've had a lot of pressure--'What can we do for you?' or 'Boy, you'd really look good riding in a convertible,' " Grant said.

Grant represents the television category on the committee. Other members are movie representative Earl Lestz, president of Paramount Studio Group; radio representative Stan Spero, retired manager with broadcast stations KMPC and KABC; live performance representative Kate Nelson, owner of the Palace Theatre; and recording industry representative Mary Lou Dudas, vice president of A&M Records.

Committee members--reappointed by the Hollywood chamber yearly--select honorees on the basis of longevity in the field of entertainment, awards they've received and charitable contributions they have made to the community. The committee's recommendations are sent to the Chamber of Commerce's board of directors for approval, Grant said.

Those receiving stars must pay a $10,000 fee upon selection and promise that they will attend their star's unveiling. The most recent honoree, actor-comedian Bob Newhart, will have his star unveiled at 11:30 a.m. today at 6381 Hollywood Blvd.

Money from those fees is helping the Hollywood Historic Trust finance the $250,000 first phase of the repair project. Fans who pay $250 each to "adopt" their favorite celebrity's star will help pay for additional repairs. Grant said he favors raising the celebrities' fee for future stars to $15,000 in order to create a permanent maintenance endowment.

Grant said civic leaders hope to eventually replace the fast-rooting ficus trees with something more manageable--and more Hollywood-like. "Palm trees," he said.

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