Fame has its price

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY KELLY JANE TORRANCE

Just the words “Hol­ly­wood Walk of Fame” con­jure up an ide­al­ized vi­sion of Tin­sel­town.

Those ter­razzo-and-brass stars that line Hol­ly­wood Boule­vard and Vine Street in Los An­ge­les take us back to Hol­ly­wood’s golden age. A star on the Walk of Fame means you’ve re­ally made it. Marilyn Mon­roe, Elvis Pres­ley, Mar­lon Brando — the best of the best are rep­re­sented on that sto­ried walk.

The tra­di­tion con­tin­ues to the present. Join­ing those lu­mi­nar­ies in re­cent years were Tom Cruise, Kim Basinger, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Don­ald Trump and Judge Judy?

It might seem they don’t make stars like they used to. The fact is, though, that a star on the walk isn’t the un­com­pli­cated prize you might think: The recog­ni­tion comes with a price — and in some cases, it even can be bought.

The Hol­ly­wood Walk of Fame is run by the Hol­ly­wood Cham­ber of Com­merce and was cre­ated in the late 1950s, when city fathers were try­ing to buff up Los An­ge­les’ im­age. The first star of more than 2,000 was given in 1960 to ac­tress Joanne Wood­ward. The city des­ig­nated the walk a cul­tural/his­toric land­mark 18 years later. Stars are awarded for achieve­ment in five cat­e­gories: mo­tion pic­tures, tele­vi­sion, the­ater, ra­dio and mu­sic. Be­sides ac­tors and mu­si­cians, a hand­ful of fic­tional char­ac­ters (in­clud­ing Ker­mit the Frog) and an­i­mals (such as Lassie) have stars on the streets.

“In the old days, peo­ple used to walk on the boule­vard to catch a glimpse of the celebri­ties,” says Ana Martinez-Holler, vice pres­i­dent of me­dia re­la­tions for the Walk of Fame. Now peo­ple fly from all over the coun­try to see a par­tic­u­lar star un­veiled. It’s a ma­jor tourist at­trac­tion.

Not only peo­ple and char­ac­ters get hon­ored by the cham­ber. Com­pa­nies can be, too — for a price. Ab­so­lut Vodka just got a plaque and a cer­e­mony, for ex­am­ple, not be­cause of any­thing it has con­trib­uted to the in­dus­try but be­cause it made a big do­na­tion.

“They did not get a star,” Ms. Martinez-Holler points out. The com­pany’s logo ap­pears, with five lit­tle stars, on a plaque on pri­vate prop­erty ad­ja­cent to the walk called the Friends of the Walk of Fame. “We have a $4 mil­lion re­pair is­sue. We are try­ing to raise money.”

The celebr ity gos­sip site TMZ.com cried foul, com­plain­ing that a “tal­ent­less Vodka com­pany” got an honor when Cheeta the Chimp, “a vet­eran of 12 Tarzan movies,” was over­looked mul­ti­ple times.

Tal­ent is not chief among the se­lec­tion cri­te­ria for Walk of Fame in­duc­tion: How else to ex- plain why young “Amer­i­can Idol” host Ryan Seacrest al­ready has a star but nei­ther Al Pa­cino nor Robert De Niro does?

You must have the can­di­date’s per­mis­sion to nom­i­nate him. “I was ap­proached about Robert De Niro, but I got the feel­ing he might not have been in­ter­ested, be­cause he didn’t fol­low up. Clint East­wood isn’t in­ter­ested, I hear,” Ms. Mar tinez-Holler says. “I don’t think Ju­lia Roberts is in­ter­ested.”

A seven-mem­ber se­lec­tion com­mit­tee, looking at char­ity work, awards and longevity, meets yearly to choose about two dozen hon­orees. It’s mostly ex­ec­u­tives; the only celebrity type is Gary Owens, the an­nouncer from “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.” Once se­lected, you have five years to sched­ule your in­duc­tion. Al Pa­cino was se­lected but never set his date. Nei­ther did Madonna.

Those se­lected have to pay for the honor: The cham­ber charges $25,000 for a star to pay for the cer­e­mony and up­keep. The fee went up from $15,000 just a few years ago. Few candidates pay the fee them­selves. Usu­ally the fan club or stu­dio picks up the tab.

It makes fi­nan­cial sense for them: A star on the Hol­ly­wood Walk of Fame of­fers some nice pub­lic­ity, and hon­orees usu­ally take ad­van­tage of it. “They like to wait un­til they have a cer­tain film com­ing out. It’s all hype,” Ms. Martinez-Holler ad­mits.

Tinker­bell, the fairy from Dis­ney’s an­i­mated “Peter Pan,” just got se­lected. Co­in­ci­den­tally, Dis­ney is us­ing the char­ac­ter to launch a new fran­chise, Dis­ney Fairies, this year, with a di­rect-toDVD movie star­ring the crea­ture.

Howie Mandel is get­ting the next star next month. Co­in­ci­den­tally, his game show “Deal or No Deal” starts syn­di­ca­tion next month.

“I think Hol­ly­wood in­sid­ers un­der­stand that the Walk of Fame is fre­quently used as a pub­lic rela- tions tool,” says Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio’s en­ter­tain­ment cor­re­spon­dent, Kim Mas­ters.

The Walk of Fame is hardly the only “honor” stu­dios help fund.

“The Golden Globes, pre-TV, was driven, as many awards events are, by stu­dios pay­ing vast sums for ta­bles at the event,” says film critic David Pol­lard, ed­i­tor of Movie City News. “This is still true of most of the un­tele­vised crit­ics awards.”

At the end of the year, the pub­lic sees stu­dios ad­ver­tis­ing all the crit­ics awards their movies re­ceived. Most peo­ple don’t re­al­ize some mean more than oth­ers.

“Na­tional Board of Re­view is not a le­git awards-giv­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion by any stan­dard ex­cept longevity and be­ing the first group to an­nounce each year, well be­fore the year ends and all the movies have been seen. But they sell ta­bles to stu­dios the same way that [New York Film Crit­ics Cir­cle], a very self-se­ri­ous, le­git group of crit­ics, does for their cel­e­bra­tion,” Mr. Pol­lard says. “One group chooses ‘win­ners’ to spread it around to get max­i­mum in­come. The other would never con­sider think­ing about such things. But no one can tell them apart, it seems.

“A star is a lovely thing to get,” Mr. Pol­lard con­cludes, “but it is a gim­mick and a mon­ey­maker to pro­mote Hol­ly­wood, lin­ing some of the least glam­orous streets of Los An­ge­les. Like the Golden Globe, it is not an honor earned by the work­ing stan­dards of any le­git­i­mate ac­tor. But no one is giv­ing back their Golden Globe.”

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