The Hollywood Walk of Fame
The Hollywood Walk of Fame has become one of the most iconic emblems of the entertainment business. E.M. Stuart came up with the idea of awarding the stars to those in film, TV, live theater, radio, and recording. It opened to the public in the spring of 1961. The Walk was designated a Historic-Cultural Monument by the Cultural Heritage Board in 1978. The Walk of Fame runs along Hollywood Avenue from Gower Street to La Brea Avenue along with two other segments on Vine Street and Marshfield Way.
Backstory and Context
The Hollywood Walk of Fame has become one of the top tourist attractions in America and worldwide. Annual ceremonies, with about 24 inductions, are broadcast around the globe, and assisting the already whimsical image of Hollywood. The iconic attraction, according to most, is one of the most successful marketing ideas ever produced. E.M. Stuart, the man credited with the idea, served as the volunteer president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, in 1953. According to the Chamber press release, he proposed the idea as a means to “maintain the glory of a community whose name means glamour and excitement in the four corners of the world.” Architecturally, we are not quite sure how it came about. The idea that most claim as possible, is that the ceiling of the dining room in the historic Hollywood Hotel once had stars painted on it with the names of celebrities.
The basic foundation of the Walk were not agreed upon until 1955. The same year the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce proceeded to secure the necessary signatures to present to the city. The plans were solidified and submitted to the Los Angeles City Council in January 1956. The chamber then enlisted the help of the Board of Public Works to prepare the engineering specifications. In 1956, a proposed version of the star was unveiled. It included a caricature of the honoree, with a proposal for brown and blue sidewalks. The idea was later nixed as some worried caricatures were much too complicated. Additionally, the colors were changed to black and coral. The Improvement Association started a process for selecting the honorees to be initially placed in the Walk. To represent the four different aspects of the entertainment industry, four major committees were formed. The four included motion picture, television, recording (music), and radio. Walt Disney was one of the selections of the Members of the Motion Picture Selection Committee. This process continued to evolve. People were submitting 150 names a week, and so controversy, naturally ensued. A clear example of how the process worked? Perhaps, the greatest comedian of all Silent Film, Charlie Chaplin, was not included.
The Chamber and city unveiled eight stars on Hollywood Boulevard in August 1958. This was to demonstrate what the Walk would look like and to see how the public would react. The eight honorees included Olive Borden, Ronald Colman, Louise Fazenda, Preston Foster, Burt Lancaster, Edward Sedgwick, Ernest Torrence, and Joanne Woodward. Construction began shortly after. However, construction was delayed due to opposition to the assessment district, and Charlie Chaplin Jr. avenging the fact that his father was left out When construction resumed,. Stanley Kramer’s star was the first laid in the new Walk March 28, 1960 near the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Gower. The work had progressed so much that it was decided to dedicate the Walk on November 23, in unification with the Hollywood Christmas Parade. Stuart, founder of the Walk, was appointed chair of the Completion Committee and was put in charge of planning the ceremonies to mark completion. The work wasn’t finished until spring 1961, when it was finally accepted by the Board of Public Works, with the first 1,558 stars.
The City Council began to see that there would need to be a system to keep the Walk fair and financially stable. The group deferredto the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce the responsibility of creating this system. It had three tasks: 1) to establish a set of rules to determine the qualifications of personalities to be eligible for the addition to the Walk of Fame, 2) to work out the procedure to process candidates, and 3) to develop a plan for financing of the costs of the addition of approved names. It wasn’t until December 1968 that the next star was added due to the rigid rules of the system. Danny Thomas, actor and comedian, hosted the momentous ceremony. From that point on, the ceremony had a system that flowed and ceremonies were held on a fairly regular basis.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame was designated a Historic-Cultural Monument by the Cultural Heritage Board in 1978. Two years later, the Chamber presented a star to entertainer Johnny Grant. He was so honored that he offered to be a part of these momentous decisions and ceremonies. The Chamber was so impressed, they offered him the position of chairing the Walk of Fame committee. He served on the committee until his death. His inspirational leadership skills built the Walk of Fame into an international icon. Additionally, under his leadership, a fifth category was added, Live Theatre. He also solved the problem of running out of space to add stars. Johnny approved the creation of a second row of stars on the sidewalk which would alternate with the existing stars. The Walk of Fame was extended one block to the west from Sycamore to Labrea on Hollywood Blvd. on February 1, 1994. Thirty Stars were added to the block to create instant attraction. The Walk ends with a gazebo held up by four silver screen actresses of different ethnicity. It was created as a tribute to multi-ethnic women of Hollywood. Even for the biggest names in the rarified world of stardom, it is probably humbling and exciting to be asked to plant one’s hands in the wet cement and “sign” one’s name into immortality.