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Hollywood's Stars Victims of Premature Wrinkling

Fissures and bulges are marring the looks of the Walk of Fame. And no one knows why.

October 28, 2003|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Some of Hollywood's stars -- plagued by unsightly lines and sudden flare-ups of swelling -- are in serious need of face-lifts.

Take poor Anthony Hopkins: His star was installed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame just last month, and already he's cracked up. And he's not the only one.

The Walk of Fame is mysteriously buckling. The black terrazzo stone surrounding the pink stars is pouching up -- sometimes overnight.

What's more, fissures seem to be opening in the pink stars themselves more quickly than ever.

"There's something happening beneath the surface," said honorary Hollywood Mayor Johnny Grant, chairman of the Walk of Fame.

He said he had been worrying about the buckling for more than a year, but had become truly alarmed late this summer, when he saw a woman trip and fall on an uneven patch near Whoopi Goldberg's star.

Because the damage is concentrated in the area of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue above the Red Line subway, Grant suspects tunneling by the MTA in the 1990s may be to blame.

The problem has become serious enough that Councilman Eric Garcetti introduced a motion this month calling for a study of what is ailing the silver-flecked terrazzo that surrounds each of the 2,240 stars on the world-famous stretch of sidewalk.

"This is our calling card to the world," Garcetti said of the Walk of Fame. "We need to figure out once and for all whether the MTA is causing our best asset to crumble."

MTA officials said they do not believe they are at fault.

"We've looked at this many times," MTA chief Roger Snoble said. He speculated that cars bumping over the sidewalk on their way into parking lots may be disrupting some stars and that heavy foot traffic also is to blame.

"What sidewalks take more abuse than the Hollywood sidewalks?" he asked.

Ana Martinez-Holler, publicist for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which dreamed up the Walk of Fame in the mid-1950s, said not even the most obese tourists in the world could be blamed for the buckling in areas where cars never drive.

"That can't be.... How heavy are these people?" she asked.

On Hollywood Boulevard earlier this month, tour guide Christopher Roberts stood by as a crowd of tourists, tuxedo-clad extras from a nearby film shoot and neighborhood figures swirled past.

Whatever -- or whoever -- is responsible for the buckling, Roberts said, "I wish it would stop." Even though the damage is confined to a small area around Hollywood and Highland, fewer than 100 stars in all, he said tourists have noticed.

Grant estimates that more than 20 million people visit the Walk of Fame each year, an unverifiable statistic that, if correct, would make it more popular than Disneyland, which drew about 13 million people last year.

Legend has it that the walk was born when a few people from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce were lamenting that sightings of movie stars in town -- once so common -- were becoming rare.

Studios, advertising agencies and nightclubs were moving out of Hollywood to other parts of Los Angeles, taking stars with them, and some feared that the tourists so important to the business community would follow.

Then someone remembered that the old Hollywood Hotel had once painted stars' names on the ceiling, Grant said, "and someone said, hey, we can put the names out on the sidewalk where everyone can see, and it'll be a good tourist attraction."

Originally, according to Grant, the chamber was going to paint the stars brown and yellow, but Hollywood developer Charles E. Toberman, the man behind numerous Hollywood subdivisions, not to mention Grauman's Chinese Theatre, objected that those colors would clash with his buildings.

The chamber came back with pink and black.

Grant said the chamber did not keep records on how the first stars were picked. Publicist and producer Sue Clark Chadwick, 84, said she was at an initial meeting in the back room of the Los Feliz Brown Derby where, over martinis, chamber members discussed the idea. Then they went on a 16-month engraving frenzy. Stars are given in five categories: movies, radio, television, music and theater.

The walk was dedicated Feb. 9, 1960, with 1,558 names, from Greta Garbo to Vivien Leigh. It was an immediate hit. Grant said he used to glimpse Elvis Presley strolling along the stars on Hollywood Boulevard.

Chadwick said she once ran into Jane Russell ("The Outlaw," "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes") making her way down Hollywood Boulevard all by herself to check out her star. William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz on "I Love Lucy," not only received a star on the Walk of Fame; he also died there in 1966 after suffering a heart attack, according to Grant.

It was 1968 before the chamber gave out another star. And it was the 1970s, after Hollywood Boulevard was well into its decline from glamorous to grubby that the Chamber of Commerce began staging ceremonies that included mandatory appearances by the stars.

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