The footprints of Gable and Bogart and Monroe at Grauman's Chinese Theatre have long seemed sad fossil records of an era when celebrities actually outnumbered tattoo artists on Hollywood Boulevard. On Sunday, the movie stars finally returned to the famous thoroughfare as an army marching along a red carpet that stretched from curb to curb, and, surprising many, they didn't kick up as much dust as expected.
The Academy Awards returned to Hollywood for the first time since 1960, and the security, traffic and other logistical nightmares expected from shoehorning the 74th annual event into a dense business district were, for the most part, more than manageable. In the end, those challenges were like the drizzle that briefly threatened the arriving stars: ominous to consider but an afterthought by the time the curtain went up.
The marriage of Hollywood the city and Hollywood the industry provided an interesting juxtaposition throughout the day. Tattooed youngsters with leather jackets shared sidewalks with primping Beverly Hills wives, and glowering motor cops cruised past florists scrambling to set up bouquets of roses, lilies and (appropriately) stargazers at the foot of the red carpet. Limos holding Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts cruised within a stone's throw of the Hollywood Wax Museum, typically the only place on Hollywood Boulevard a tourist has a chance to see them.
Unlike the staid setting of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion or the low-glamour sheen of the Shrine Auditorium, the new Oscar home, the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, offers swanky digs inside, and for those all-important exterior shots, the Hollywood sign and plenty of history within the frame. The building opened in November and was crafted with the Oscars in mind as its defining tenant. The reviews of it as architecture and music hall have been mixed, but the cross streets felt like home to those who made it past the velvet rope.
"Oscar finally has a home, and this looks like a good one," said a beaming Ernest Borgnine on his way into the theater. "I think it's wonderful that it's here. I won my Oscar [as best actor for 1955's 'Marty'] up the street at the Pantages, and it's nice to be back over here."
Closures Leave Some Shop Owners Surly
That's not to say the first edition of the Oscars at the Kodak Theatre was seamless. Merchants remained frustrated and surly over the street closures that have stifled their business for much of the past week.
"They have killed us, just killed us," said David Cohen, from the doorway of his electronics and gift shop across the street. "They have closed the streets, they have closed the sidewalks. No tour buses. I usually sell $2,000 cameras, but today, with no foot traffic, I'm trying to sell Cokes."
The closure of Hollywood Boulevard from Orange Drive east to Highland Avenue since Tuesday created major headaches for local residents, and with the cordoned-off area expanding each day, there were forecasts of white-knuckle traffic jams on Sunday. But, perhaps because many residents were scared away, the traffic was heavy but not event-threatening.
The tight restrictions also bruised the feelings of thousands of tourists and locals who converged on the area to see celebrities despite days of warnings from officials that television would offer the best view. That frustration was heightened by the conflicting orders given throughout the day by police and security personnel who were learning on the job how the new venue would fit the high-profile occasion.
"I have been sent in 10 different directions and yelled at," snapped Heidi Harlan, who drove in from Riverside solely for stargazing. "This is ridiculous." Harlan was among 1,500 fans who waited in long midmorning lines to pass through metal detectors on Highland Avenue and then clogged up the sidewalk next to the Kodak entrance, only to be hustled out an hour later. The grumpy crowd was told the sidewalk was only for passing customers of the stores on the street and that loitering would not be allowed.
Frustrated Residents Question Project
There was also a percolating frustration among many locals that the money and glitz promised by the new tenant at Hollywood & Highland were not worth the inconvenience, and like the renovated Times Square in New York, offered a neutered and disconcerting corporate creation. "They only do protection for all these people; they won't do it for the residents," said Heidi Beck, who opted to watch her children play at a nearby park instead. "It always just caters to the people with money. We don't get anything for our inconvenience. It just benefits the industry, which keeps getting richer."