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Animated Characters Switch From Snapshots to Mugshots

L.A. police are cracking down after complaints that some costumed impersonators are shaking down visitors along the Walk of Fame.

October 25, 2005|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

There was no escape, even for superhero Mr. Incredible.

"Throw down your heads and get up against the wall!" police in Hollywood shouted at the movie cartoon character from "The Incredibles" and his sidekick, Elmo the Muppet.

Authorities were cracking down on what some have complained is the shakedown of Hollywood Boulevard tourists when they arrested the two costumed impersonators along with a third, the dark-hooded character from the slasher movie "Scream."

Mr. Incredible and Elmo said they were taken into custody at gunpoint and driven in handcuffs by police car to the front of the Kodak Theatre. There they claim they were paraded on the Hollywood Walk of Fame before shocked tourists and other boulevard impersonators.

"We were leaving to get something to eat. We had our heads off and were walking about a block away to our car when they pulled up," said Barry Stockton, 42, aka Mr. Incredible, wearing a red superhero costume topped with a huge, cartoonish head.

Donn Harper, 45, said he complied, tossing his bug-eyed, furry red Elmo costume head to the ground. "They jumped out of their car with guns drawn. With all of the crime in Los Angeles they pick on us?"

Stockton, of Ontario, and Harper, of Echo Park, were charged with misdemeanor "aggressive begging" along with the "Scream" character, Bill Stevens, 54, of Hollywood. Police said the trio was among those who had been warned that authorities were preparing to respond to growing complaints from boulevard visitors and merchants about the Tinseltown impersonators.

Some tourists have complained that they were harassed for failing to pay the costumed characters for posing for photos with them in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the nearby Kodak Theatre. Some merchants have grumbled that the impersonators were also scaring customers with menacing costumes, fake weapons and props like phony snakes.

Last Wednesday's arrests occurred following a sting operation conducted by a pair of undercover officers pretending to be French tourists who didn't understand English or the American tipping culture.

"One of them asked how much I charge, and I said we work for tips. She said, 'Chips?' I had a dollar bill in my hand and I showed that to her. That was my mistake. When you're talking to foreigners you have to show them," said Harper -- who said he makes up to $400 "on a good day" posing for tourist pictures.

Stockton also displayed currency when the phony Frenchwoman seemed puzzled. Stevens did too. "She asked how much we charge, and I said we usually get a dollar," Stevens said.

Los Angeles Police Officer Michael Shea said the impersonators -- who make their own costumes or buy what they say are "licensed" suits on EBay -- were summoned to a meeting last month at the Hollywood and Highland shopping center and warned that enforcement of solicitation and harassment laws was coming. Sixty-eight of them, many in costume, showed up.

Shea said Mr. Incredible and Elmo were brought back to the boulevard so others could see they had been busted. "Make no mistake about it -- I wanted the characters to know what we're doing," Shea said. The trio was released on $100 bond each.

Other impersonators worried that the crackdown signals a move by the merchant-supported Hollywood Entertainment District to take over the lucrative but independent picture-posing business.

That's not going to happen, but officials have looked at ways other cities license and control street performers, said Kerry Morrison, the district's executive director.

She said there have been "dueling Batman" characters on the street as well as impersonators such as the slasher film favorite "Chucky," who lunges at children with a fake knife. At the meeting, Morrison said she urged them to "get out of character for a moment" if a young tourist seems frightened.

On the boulevard, visitor Dyllan Lindsey, 8, of St. Louis, posed Friday for a family photo as a menacingly grinning Chucky put the rubber knife to his throat. "I saw 'Child's Play III.' I know who Chucky is," said Dyllan, a 3rd-grader.

His father, Mike Lindsey, slipped a dollar bill into the hand of the silent, masked Chucky.

"I'm not offended," Lindsey said. "I initiated the tip for him posing and us having fun."

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