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Costumed characters on Hollywood's Walk of Fame allege attacks by music vendors, seek officials' help

A series of assaults near Grauman's Chinese Theatre has led to a plea for a city licensing system that costumed actors who pose for photos hope will protect them.

February 11, 2009|Bob Pool

Holy Hollywood ending, Batman! Maybe this is a job for Superman!

That's what Robin was probably thinking after the superhero sidekick was attacked and pummeled as he strolled in his mask, cape and tights among tourists on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

A series of assaults near Grauman's Chinese Theatre has led to a plea for a city licensing system that costumed characters who pose for visitors' photos hope will protect them.

Actors who dress like movie and TV personalities contend that vendors selling compact discs of music in the 6800 block of Hollywood Boulevard have attacked them and beaten them without provocation.

Some of the impersonators complain that police and private security guards who work in the area have been slow to respond when the sidewalk attacks have occurred.

Dozens of the colorful street actors show up daily on the north side of the boulevard between the famed movie theater and the Hollywood & Highland shopping center to pose for pictures in exchange for tips.

In complaints to Los Angeles police, Hollywood business leaders and city officials, the characters have blamed the attacks on aggressive music disc sellers who congregate near a record store on the block.

According to one veteran performing character, an associate of the assailants has bragged that they have ties to a South Los Angeles street gang.

Since late fall, more than half a dozen street performers have reportedly been beaten, including one costumed character who was hospitalized with a skull fracture. Several have been attacked more than once.

At the Walk of Fame, CD sellers had little to say about their relationship with the performers.

"I don't know anything about that," said one, walking away with his stack of discs without further comment. "You'll have to talk to the characters," said another, who also turned away. A third allowed that "I'm smooth and mellow. They don't bother me."

But in an appeal to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, one performer alleged that the attacks have continued because authorities have "open disdain and distaste for the characters," whom they view "as beggars."

In a letter to Villaraigosa and City Council President Eric Garcetti, impersonator Christopher Mitchell asked that police and security guards from a local business improvement district be assigned to patrol "nonstop" along the block between 10 a.m. and midnight.

After that, the city should create a licensing system for characters and other performers on the block and institute rules for sidewalk CD sellers, proposed Mitchell -- who has performed in costume on the street for more than three years.

A spokeswoman for Villaraigosa said his office is looking into the matter. So is Garcetti, who represents the Hollywood area.

Garcetti said a registration and permit system could be a solution to the Walk of Fame sidewalk turf wars. But he said officials need to be cautious about violating 1st Amendment rights and avoiding some of the legal problems caused by vendor and performer restrictions imposed at the Venice Boardwalk and Santa Monica's 3rd Street Promenade.

He will meet this week with Hollywood-area police Capt. Bea Girmala to discuss options, Garcetti said.

"Can we do something to regulate this? This is our calling card to the world," he said of the Walk of Fame. "This is a real jewel, and all it takes is one or two incidents to ruin it."

Kerry Morrison, head of the Hollywood Entertainment District business improvement group, agreed that "territorial scuffles over very precious real estate" take place on the sidewalk.

She said collection of a business license fee from performers and vendors could help pay for more intensive patrolling of the block.

But crowds of characters asking for tips and vendors requesting "donations" for their CDs have become a turnoff for visitors, she said.

"They are intimidating to a lot of tourists who feel they have walked through the gauntlet," Morrison said.

Incidents over the past few years have included arrests of a costumed Elmo, Mr. Incredible and the Scream on suspicion of aggressive begging and the jailing of a Freddy Krueger on suspicion of stabbing a man in a scuffle. A Chewbacca was arrested on suspicion of battery after allegedly head-butting a tour guide who complained about his treatment of two tourists from Japan.

For their part, the costumed characters contend that the handful of performers who in the past have been accused of shaking down tourists or causing other problems are no longer present on the block. They characterized themselves as an iconic piece of the Hollywood scene and part of the attraction that draws millions of tourists a year to the area.

But the performers claim the threat to them from aggressive CD vendors is real.

One character actress, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, said she was threatened by friends of the music sellers after she witnessed one assault and called an ambulance and authorities.

On another occasion, performers claim, CD sellers looking for specific sidewalk characters ordered characters to unmask so they could identify them.

An attack on the character Nacho Libre was videotaped and posted on YouTube.

Alex Brovedani, a 27-year-old actor who portrays such characters as Batman and Robin on the boulevard, said he has been assaulted four times by CD vendors.

"Sometimes they try to horn in when we're with tourists. Some characters will tell them to wait their turn. That's when they start threatening," Brovedani said.

"They beat up Nacho Libre and gave him a shiner. I've gotten punched in the face. I've been knocked down and kicked in the head. They beat Freddy Krueger with brass knuckles."

Being dressed as a superhero doesn't help, Brovedani said.

"With costumes on it's hard to fight back, even as Batman. Our costumes are so clunky we can't catch them when they run away."

Stay tuned for the next installment.

--

bob.pool@latimes.com

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