Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Hollywood Walk of Faded Fame

People who live in LA rarely go to Hollywood – specifically Hollywood Blvd. Yeah, there’s Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the big mall at Hollywood & Highland. But by and large it’s very touristy and there’s no one I want to see at the Wax Museum.

So for the first time in forever, I spent a lot of time on Hollywood Blvd. last week since my play was running there.  (The Stella Adler Theatre was a terrific space!)  Usually, the only time I go that neighborhood is to eat at Musso & Frank’s (an LA institution where local TV newscasters congregated between their 6:00 and 11:00 newscasts to get roaring drunk).

Hollywood Blvd. was quite the scene. Spiderman dancing with Hari Krishnas. Former Trump cabinet members selling Maps to Stars Home. Polynesian-themed street bars, and T-shirt emporiums on every corner. Meanwhile, the one truly classy attraction is gone. The Frederick’s of Hollywood Museum of Bras is no longer.

Since it’s the summer, the street was packed pretty much day and night. Millennials, gang members, hookers, and young families.

One of the big attractions of course is the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Various celebrities have their names emblazoned on stars on the sidewalk. There are more than 2600 of them. Getting a star is a big deal. There’s a gala ceremony. Several of my disc jockey friends received stars so I attended their unveilings. The local news covers it, fans come out, it’s fun.

Sometimes it’s confusing when two stars have the same name. The night Michael Jackson died there were huge wreaths and candles and shrines placed upon his star – except it was the star of Michael Jackson, the local radio talkshow host.

But the idea is you’d walk down the street, see the names, and be reminded of them. And that was true 20 or 30 years ago. But now when I look at the population trudging down the street and read the names of the stars under their feet I realize these people have no clue who 95% of these people are. Some are to be expected – there was Dr. Frank Baxter. Who???? He hosted TV science specials. Ken Niles. Who?????? An offstage announcer like Johnny Olsen. Who????? (Okay, we can play this game forever.) But some were major stars like Red Skelton who have also faded into the mist of time.

It’s now the Hollywood Walk of Faded Fame. And this is what struck me the most: people are no longer even looking down at these plaques. For years you’d see tourists gazing down to the street, taking photos of some of the stars, etc. And now, this once-main-attraction is an afterthought. I don’t know what made me feel older – knowing who Ann Blyth was or being the only person reading the names.

It's just another reminder that nothing lasts forever.  People who were so big, so influential, so popular eventually drift into obscurity.    I noticed that Adam Levine has a star.   For now. 

43 comments :

Anonymous said...

"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings, look on my works ye mighty, and despair"

Wendy M. Grossman said...

...and some of the biggest contributors to Hollywood, historically, never got stars at all: William Shakespeare and Jane Austen. I mean, what's that *about*?

wg

Cleaver Beaver Jr. said...

The Jon Stewart's of the world also fade fast. Its two years since he left The Daily Show and there are emerging young adults who have no idea who he is since there are no reruns to grow-up watching.

Obscurity does happen fast when your not on TV or your show is on channel 437.

Also - I see obituaries about longtime Broadway actors/actresses and have no idea who they are. Starring on Broadway used to make you an A-Lister, but then came along TV and now the talent is on the tube and Broadway stars are unknown to most.

Jim said...

And a question for anyone who was around then. Did people really find Red Skelton funny? I'm a great fan of old movies, and I know that you sometimes have to mnake allowances for the way pacing has changed over the years, and I'm never in a million years going to get all the pop culture references, but despite that I enjoy pretty much all the old comedians. Even the British ones who were subject to some pretty extreme restrictions from the censors. The big exception is Red Skelton. It's not just that he's unfunny, it's that his contract seemed to give him the right to interrupt any film he's in with five-minute uninterrupted chunks of being unfunny.

I love Ginger Rogers, I don't think anyone can find more humour in a line than her, but the whole second half of one of her films was lost on me after Skelton came on with his five minutes on how to eat a doughnut. I know that Buster Keaton worked with him a lot, and if I try to imagine Buster in the pink tutu, or trying to escape from being locked in a house with a big dog then I see points that it might have been funny. But it still isn't. Am I missing something?

Joe said...

Sadly, most of Hollywood Boulevard is starting to resemble a slum. Last year, I visited Hollywood and walked down the Boulevard, but couldn't go more than 10 feet without being accosted by a homeless person wanting money. My friend who lives out there says this is becoming a bigger problem than the local government wants to address.

Tom said...

If interested, the Kinks addressed this phenomenon in their song Celluloid Heroes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5VYH1qV17k

Anonymous said...

Is there still two Harrison Fords on the Hollywood Walk of Fame-one for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones actor and another for an obscure star from the '20s?

Eric J said...

Yes, two Harrison Fords.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_stars_on_the_Hollywood_Walk_of_Fame

The Everly Brothers, Phil and Don Brothers, share a star.

Bob Zirunkel said...

@ Wendy M. Grossman:

Oy, I'm a dolt.
I first read that as William Shatner and Jane Austen...

"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
"That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
"And then is heard no more: it is a tale
"Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
"Signifying nothing."

McAlvie said...

Given some of the names you've listed, I suspect some of those stars were only legends in their own minds? I mean, Red Skelton may not be a known name to the whippersnappers now, but in his time EVERYONE new the name. A local DJ? Only well known to locals.

@ Jim: Yes. I dislike being taken out of a story, be it book or movie, so I understand why you would have found his cameo-type appearances annoying. But his stand up routines, which were still aired on tv pretty frequently when I was a kid, were comic works of art. And it may well be that audiences then expected certain routines to be included and might have felt gypped if they weren't. Not much point in putting his name on the billing, otherwise.

Victor Velasco said...

Best obscure Walk Of Fame star: Strongheart

Ted said...

Ken Niles. Yeah, he was the announcer on THE ABBOTT AND COSTELLO SHOW, among other series, on radio in the 1940s.

Not everybody forgets.

Peter said...

Were there stars for OJ, Robert Blake and Phil Spector? If there were, are they still there?

Daniel Sachs said...

Hey, Weird Al Yankovic is about to finally get his well deserved star. Even though my chances of ever visiting Los Angeles are about equal to my chances of visiting the Sea of Tranquility, I'm excited.

http://www.avclub.com/article/weird-al-yankovic-getting-star-hollywood-walk-fame-257220

(Also some obscurity: Lin-Manuel Miranda. Never heard of him. Well, everyone deserves their shot.)

ScottyB said...

Yeah, but y'know what, Ken? Y'all always had that stuff, either to gawk at when you were a kid or to make sport of in adulthood. That kinda thing doesn't exist in Chicago or New York Cuty, expect maybe pointing out spots on the sidewalk or the curb in front of restaurants where organized crime dudes got rubbed out between the 1930s and 1980s. True, the cavalcade of people you describe in today's blog post are indeed low-rent, but it's a parade of humanity to watch and snicker at — and even maybe have one silly thought lead to another and before you know it, you've got a script idea. And funny thing about that -- your post is the only explanation for my mental image-loop playing over and over of Eddie Murphy spending his days walking up and down the Walk of Fame yelling "I am Gumby, dammit!!" to everyone.

ScottyB said...

"Rudolph Valentino looks very much alive / And he looks up ladies dresses as they sadly pass him by / Avoid stepping on Bela Lugosi / 'Cause he's liable to turn and bite / But stand close by Bette Davis / Because hers was such a lonely life" — The Kinks, "Celluloid Heroes", written about the stars along the Walk of Fame.

Jeff Maxwell said...

If you don't know the name on the star, why should you look? Time marching on, especially on Hollywood Blvd, is creepy. Just ask some young folks if they've ever seen MASH, or watched a Jerry Lewis movie. The blank stares I've seen made me dizzy/nauseous.

By the way "Jim," I saw Red Skelton on stage in Reno, NV. Umpteen hundred people laughed continuously and uncontrollably for over an hour. He was the funniest human I've ever seen perform live (when he was alive).

So regret not getting to The Fugitive. Massive head cold. Spewing mucous wouldn't have been attractive.

E. Yarber said...

Ken Niles was not only Abbott and Costello's radio announcer, but he played a weaselly character murdered in Out of the Past, that brilliant Robert Mitchum noir with a plot only slightly less convoluted than "Who's on First?"

If nothing else, checking out the Hollywood Walk of Fame gives one an easy excuse for avoiding eye contact with the panhandlers.

Robert Forman said...

Ken,
It's funny you should mention Skelton because I just re-read Mark Evanier's story about him telling dirty jokes at Bel-Aire Camera in Westwood. It's a fun read:
http://www.newsfromme.com/pov/col157/

John Mansfield said...

It was twenty years ago, having finished graduate school in Baltimore and received a post-doc appointment at UCLA, I drove a rental truck across the country with my wife and two oldest children in the cab, and a rusty Toyota Tercel towed behind. The truck's transmission failed east of Kingman, Arizona, but we were on the road again the next afternoon with all our stuff transferred to a different truck. Coming through downtown LA late that night, rather tired and trying to follow Interstate 10 to get through to our arranged Mar Vista apartment, we got confused by the signage and turns, and decided to pull off the freeway to get our bearings. We parked the truck and looked at the street signs, and laughed. The corner of Hollywood and Vine. OK, we had indeed made it to LA.

Peter said...

Ken, have you seen Dunkirk yet? I've seen it twice. It's truly magnificent. And I speak as someone who's not a Nolan fanboy. For once the hype is justified. Thankfully it's under 2 hours. When the film was first announced, I was certain it would be a three hour ordeal. But it's just the right length. Everything about it is spot on. The last three minutes in particular are pitch perfect.

Plus I noticed in the end credits that the historical consultant was someone called Joshua Levine. Jeez, you've got a big family.

VP81955 said...

Phil Spector, Robert Blake and O.J. Simpson don't have stars on the Walk of Fame, but one convicted murderer does -- Spade Cooley, a western swing star a la Bob Wills who was a Los Angeles TV pioneer. (Ken may remember him.)

I resent the increasing corporate influence over who is selected, and would love to see honorees who actually have ties to entertainment in LA or southern California. For example, why doesn't singer-songwriter Jackie De Shannon, a major part of the Laurel Canyon music scene in the '60s and '70s, have a star? She's still with us (as anyone who hears her weekly reports on the Sunday morning Beatles radio show can attest); c'mon, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, give Jackie a star ceremony.

Donald Benson said...

I was a big Red Skelton Show fan, even when he and his guest stars "spontaneously" got the giggles or ad libbed. It was flat-out, unapologetic corn and Skelton knew physical comedy was a lot more than just falling down. He was certainly funnier than Bob Hope, who might have a decent monologue but really lame sketches.

In my youth Red Skelton films were usually a treat, in part because there were fewer of them on local TV. He was every class clown's ideal: the guy who mugged and hammed outrageously, and could find a laugh in stumbling up a stairway. Bob Hope films were usually sure things, but after "Son of Paleface" he declined from comedian to Beloved American Institution.

Jack Zullo said...

I go from time to time and talk to John Belushi's star.

John Mansfield said...

It was twenty years ago, having finished graduate school in Baltimore and received a post-doc appointment at UCLA, I drove a rental truck across the country with my wife and two oldest children in the cab, and a rusty Toyota Tercel towed behind. The truck's transmission failed east of Kingman, Arizona, but we were on the road again the next afternoon with all our stuff transferred to a different truck. Coming through downtown LA late that night, rather tired and trying to follow Interstate 10 to get through to our arranged Mar Vista apartment, we got confused by the signage and turns, and decided to pull off the freeway to get our bearings. We parked the truck and looked at the street signs, and laughed. The corner of Hollywood and Vine. OK, we had indeed made it to LA.

Joe in DC said...

Friday question: Recently, a guy named Kieran Fisher ( @HairEverywhere_ ) wrote: “Name a forgotten TV show you really enjoyed.” He lives in Scotland so a lot of his replies were names of UK shows I’d never heard of, but I was gratified to see Peter Sagal (of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me) list Quark and Buffalo Bill. (I myself threw out Grand and Doctor Doctor.) Curious what some of your forgotten/enjoyed shows might be.

Donald Benson said...

Many years ago, a couple of "rebirths" back, I read an article about the homeless problem in downtown Hollywood. According to a social worker, patients released from mental institutions and such would be offered bus tickets home, and they'd usually choose "Hollywood". The idea of Hollywood as a physical place to see stars or become one was largely dead, but enough of the myth lingered to draw people who really didn't have someplace to go.

The would-be stars and dealmakers keep coming, of course, but most are just smart enough to know studio talent scouts don't haunt drugstore soda fountains (if they exist at all).

I would guess Las Vegas has a similar problem with pilgrims assuming the glamor and money is easily accessed; just as San Francisco once attracted sad runaways seeking a long-past Summer of Love.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Who decided it would "honor" show business stars by encouraging people to walk over their names? Not to mention drop gum, spill drinks, spit, etc.

And now to do battle with CAPTCHA. This thing is getting to be an ordeal. I'm not a robot!

Rock Golf said...

My favorite Red Skelton story, and it may be apocryphal:
Red and Lucille Ball are doing a sketch in the days of live TV. They both playing hobos.
The script call for Lucy to try to pick something from Red's pants pocket, but apparently there was a hole in the pocket and and Lucy couldn't find the prop required for the sketch to continue.
She gamely continued trying before turning to Red and saying "I feel stupid!"
Red instantly replied "Keep going, you'll feel nuts."
The network immediately went black.

Anyone know if this actually happened?

Aaron said...

Having only lived in Burbank for less than a year, my wife and I still go check out Hollywood probably once a month. I marvel at some of the handprints at the Chinese Theater. Some of those names are long, long forgotten but I can imagine the big deal it was for the then-hot movie star, at the time.

The Walk of Fame is great for trivia nerds who can instantly name a project that some obscure honoree was attached to. Or, convincingly make something up on the spot!

Mike Doran said...

For Rock Golf:

This story sounds like something that might have happened during a Skelton dress rehearsal, also known as "The Red Skelton Dirty Hour".
Skelton did one or two dress run-throughs for each show, during which he would ad-lib as much off-color stuff as he could think of; reportedly, these rehearsals were usually standing room only - anyone and everyone who was working at Television City would try to get in to see a show that they knew would never get on the air, but they would have juicy stories to regale their friends.
When time came to record the actual show, Skelton was always on his best behavior; CBS regarded the "Dirty Hour" as " ... letting Red get it out of his system ...", but in the meantime, it was somewhat of a morale booster for the crews.
Supposedly, there's a bootleg film of a "Dirty Hour", with Skelton going one-on-one with Martha Raye; this was purportedly a big favorite on the party circuit for years (I hear it can be found on an "unauthorized" DVD - can't confirm)).

Johnny Walker said...

Is there a bodyguard over Donald Trump's star? How do they stop people gluing fake cat turds to it?

Johnny Walker said...

@RockGolf That sounds too perfect to be real. Here's Lucille and Red together as hobos... did they do this more than once? Was it a regular bit?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWVtfCVPPIg

Stu Shostak would know the answer to this.

Norm said...

I can't speak to Red skelton's movie roles but his television performances were par excellance and his Vegas show was the best in the business at its time. I saw him the night his mother passed away and he still was at the top of his game.

Peter said...

Donald, when I visited Los Angeles some years back, a long time resident told me homeless people from other states come to California and LA in particular because they know that at least they're guaranteed year round sunshine. I don't think it's got anything to do with what what little vestigial traces there are left of the showbiz allure.

Jay said...

My favorite Red Skelton story, and it may be apocryphal:
Red and Lucille Ball are doing a sketch in the days of live TV. They both playing hobos. The script call for Lucy to try to pick something from Red's pants pocket, but apparently there was a hole in the pocket and and Lucy couldn't find the prop required for the sketch to continue. She gamely continued trying before turning to Red and saying "I feel stupid!"

Red instantly replied "Keep going, you'll feel nuts."

The network immediately went black.

Anyone know if this actually happened?


Ball and Skelton only worked together on television one time, when he guest starred on one of those 60 minute I LOVE LUCY specials that they did a few of every year after the half-hour series ended, and since those were all on film, it wouldn't have happened on live television. There is a sketch at the end of that Skelton episode, though, where he and Ball are playing hobos, so something like what you describe could certainly have happened during rehearsal. If I recall correctly, the sketch is a pantomime, so there wouldn't have been any dialogue.

Cap'n Bob said...

Getting a star has less to do with merit and more to do with raising the fee to become enshrined. Last I hear it was $20,000, but I'm sure it has gone up since then.

Kosmo13 said...

Dr Frank C Baxter is also still remembered fondly by fans of "The Mole People."

Johnny Walker said...

@Jay Check the video in my post. It was the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour and they speak... a little.

Dimitris Sakaridis said...

I don’t know what made me feel older – knowing who Ann Blyth was or being the only person reading the names.

Ken, that should be "who Ann Blyth is". Veda Pierce is still alive.

Joel Strewth said...

"Sometimes it’s confusing when two stars have the same name. The night Michael Jackson died there were huge wreaths and candles and shrines placed upon his star – except it was the star of Michael Jackson, the local radio talkshow host."

The reason for that, Ken, was because on the day MJ died, the Chinese Theatre (where the more famous Michael Jackson's star was located) was hosting the premiere of Bruno.

The last time I walked down Hollywood Boulevard was November 2013; I was with my autism group, and one of us kept complaining about the seedy parts of the area because he apparently had this overly stereotypical view of what Hollywood should look like. We ended up teasing him the entire time. (Yeah, we were dicks.)

Andy Rose said...

@Mike Doran: Those Martha Raye/Red Skelton outtakes are on YouTube. If it's any indication, the "dirty hour" was pretty tame and uninteresting by modern standards.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2FJCRnqBm0

cadavra said...

I saw Skelton live twice in the 70s. The phrase "in pain from laughing" was almost never more accurate than it was those two nights.