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The force is all over Chewbacca

A Hollywood wookiee impersonator is accused of head-butting a tour guide. A witness: Superman.

February 03, 2007|Andrew Blankstein and Bob Pool | Times Staff Writers

The buzz on Hollywood Boulevard on Friday was over the Chewbacca who police say crossed over to the dark side in front of hundreds of tourists at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

LAPD officers arrested "Star Wars" street performer Frederick Evan Young, 44, of Los Angeles in his furry brown wookiee costume Thursday on a charge of misdemeanor battery for allegedly head-butting a tour guide who complained about Young's treatment of two visitors from Japan.

The incident -- witnessed by Superman and other impersonators -- is the latest clash outside the landmark cinema between visitors and performers dressed as movie and cartoon characters. They collect tips from tourists who pose for pictures and watch them perform in front of the theater, where generations of stars have placed their footprints in concrete.

Tourists have complained that some costumed characters turn abusive when they refuse to pay them to pose for pictures. Two years ago, actors dressed as superhero Mr. Incredible, Elmo the Muppet and the dark-hooded character from the movie "Scream" were arrested for aggressive begging. More recently, an actor portraying slasher movie favorite Freddie Krueger was taken into custody for allegedly stabbing another man, although no charges were filed.

Thursday's altercation comes as police and Hollywood officials are trying to rein in the colorful assortment of actors and wannabes who perform for crowds.

They acknowledge that the incident was a setback.

Authorities said it began when a Star Line Tours guide allegedly observed the Chewbacca character harassing two young girls from a rival Japanese tour company.

Guide Brian Sapir said that when he asked the performer not to touch the visitors, Young became angry.

"You could see in his eyes he was exploding beneath the mask," Sapir said Friday. "He yelled at me, 'Nobody tells this wookiee what to do!' "

After a security guard suggested that the 6-foot-5 Young take a walk down Hollywood Boulevard to cool off, he became more agitated, said Sapir, 32. "He threw off his mask and walked toward me and slammed his head into my forehead."

Other guards held Young for police. He was later released on $20,000 bail and is expected in court later this month, said Lt. Paul Vernon, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman.

A police source said that a Superman performer witnessed the altercation and was interviewed by police. Other street performers said that before police arrived Superman called producers from ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Show," which is taped across the boulevard from the theater, and a cameraman videotaped Young being led off by officers.

Neither Young nor his attorney could be reached for comment Friday.

Under city rules, street performers can't state a price or demand money to take a photo with them, Vernon said. "They only can ask for a donation. They also cannot touch or follow the tourists if they walk away."

Continuing disputes led to a "superhero summit" last year between authorities and about a dozen performers, which police said significantly reduced conflict on the boulevard. Street actors predicted Thursday's incident could lead to a formal city crackdown.

"People all over the world come to Hollywood looking for movie stars and film characters," said Councilman Eric Garcetti, who represents Hollywood. "These folks are our ambassadors. We expect the highest standards from them, which they generally uphold. I don't feel that individual incidents require new legislation but we do need to keep a watchful eye on the crown jewels of the city."

Garcetti said there are two kinds of street performers.

"There were the characters that wanted to have a code of conduct and ethics about interacting with tourists, which comprised the majority," the councilman said. "The second group of performers were renegades, who didn't want to abide by any rules and were the troublemakers."

Friday on the Walk of Fame, some street performers worried about the future.

"The city will do something eventually. Yesterday's incident probably shortened that time span," said Thomas Fox, wearing a pirate's suit reminiscent of Capt. Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean."

"Things like this happen around Chewbacca all the time. I saw him in a fight with a music vendor. They knocked over a baby stroller," Fox said.

Nearby, Chris Mitchell posed for tourists snapshots in a Darth Vader costume. Lifting his mask, he switched off the microphone device that gives his voice a deep, gravelly Darth Vader sound and said Chewbacca often had run-ins with other performers.

The whole thing has the creators of the "Star Wars" character shaking their heads.

"The street performer doesn't have any affiliation with Lucasfilm," said company spokeswoman Lynne Hale. "Nevertheless, we are disappointed that someone dressed as Chewbacca would behave in this way."

andrew.blankstein

@latimes.com

bob.pool@latimes.com

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