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The Paths of Greatness

Stepping out in the Southland often means stepping on the names of those who have cemented their legendary status, from actors to surfers.

April 02, 2000|AL RIDENOUR | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Tourists visiting Los Angeles last week for the academy shindig were frequently spotted hanging their heads. But not because they were upset . . . they were sightseeing. Throughout Southern California, there are more than two dozen tourist-attracting "walks of fame" and assorted sidewalk tributes paying homage not only to thespians, but to musicians, athletes, and even cats and dogs.

It all started in 1927 when Sid Grauman hit upon a means of cementing Hollywood's ethereal glamour into place in his Chinese Theatre's Forecourt of the Stars on Hollywood Boulevard. Beginning with the footprints of Douglas Fairbanks, 213 celebrities are enshrined at the theater.

In 1958, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce borrowed the idea and founded the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard, metaphorically dispersing those footprints onto the sidewalks of the city where the stars once worked. Pretty soon other towns began to suffer from Walk of Fame envy. And that's when things got out of hand . . .

The 11 sets of prints in front of the Vista Theater on Sunset Drive in Los Feliz are an odd lot, including handprints by not-exacly-a-

household-name Ray Harryhausen, a stop-motion animator. "We mainly put people there who would never see the cement of the Chinese," says Vista spokesman Lance Alspaugh.

Those who are honored in front of West Hollywood's Tomkat Theater, one of two local porn Walks of Fame, are more familiar--Linda Lovelace, John Holmes, Marilyn Chambers and Harry Reems.

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A more upscale porn walk of fame can be found on the Sunset Strip outside the sex superstore Hustler Hollywood. Handprints of several erotic stars are on display, as are those of publishers Al Goldstein and (naturally) Larry Flynt.

Even before porn stars got into the act, four-legged actors were making impressions in the wet stuff as part of the American Humane Society's PATSY (Performing Animal Star of the Year) ceremonials. What's left of the PATSY Walk of Fame is now scattered around the kennels of Burbank City Animal Control. The 30 or so slabs, primarily from the '50s, display the hoof and paw prints of luminaries such as Lassie, Benji and Francis the Talking Mule.

While movie horses vie for the PATSY, those who ride them are honored on the Western Walk of Stars in Old Town Newhall. The 42 bronze plaques, depicting saddles, are installed in the sidewalk along San Fernando Road and commemorate cowboy stars such as Gene Autry and William S. Hart, who owned ranches in the area, as well as some who've just moseyed through.

It's not just actors who've squished their hands, feet, paws or hooves into Southern California cement.

Hollywood RockWalk, created in front of Guitar Center in 1985, honors 54 rock 'n' roll greats. And not all those hands bear guitar-string calluses; some honorees, such as Robert Moog and Leo Fender, pioneered innovations in musical instrumentation. (Fender will soon have a place on the guitar manufacturers' Walk of Fame being planned in Corona.)

In 1994, Kenneth Cole added a twist to the phenomenon when he created Steps to the Cure in a courtyard at his Sunset Strip boutique. Here, half a dozen celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Gere, have planted footprints in a show of support for the fight against AIDS. On their birthdays, a percentage of the day's sales are donated to AIDS research.

The Latino Walk of Fame is one of a couple of politically inspired attractions. On Whittier Boulevard in East L.A., its red granite slabs with an Aztec sun motif honor activists such as Cesar E. Chavez and Edward James Olmos (and has room for 281 more). The Promenade of Prominence in Watts commemorates activists and role models with 60 plaques decorated with heart-shaped photographic portraits set within gold sunbursts. And it hasn't been without controversy: Then-Dodger Darryl Strawberry was arrested on suspicion of wife abuse two days after he was enshrined. And President Clinton's induction took place on the same day his grand jury testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case was broadcast on national TV.

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Civic pride and a desire to highlight its supporting role as a Hollywood retreat gave birth to the Palm Springs Walk of Stars in 1992. Its 180 granite stars on Palm Canyon Drive honor the obvious (Sonny Bono, Bob Hope, Liberace) as well as more obscure civic boosters, humanitarians and pioneers.

Near Los Angeles International Airport, Westchester's Flight Path along Sepulveda Boulevard displays 30 plaques dedicated to Southland aerospace giants such as Jack Northrop and Howard Hughes, as well as famous pilots, and even proto-feminist Rosie the Riveter.

A space version of the Grauman's forecourt can be found at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, where Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon, became the first to muss his space boots with cement.

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