Did Bruce Springsteen turn down a star? Did Prince also reject the honor? And are we paying for the upkeep on Donald Trump’s oft-vandalized star?
It’s the most famous 2.5-mile public walkway in the world. It’s been around for six decades, yet there are so many false stories regarding the Hollywood Walk of Fame floating around. So here, once and for all, we will set the record straight.
Myth: Muhammad Ali asked that his star be placed on a wall so it wouldn’t be vandalized.
Fact: Boxing champion Muhammad Ali has had a star since 2002, but it’s not on the sidewalk, it’s on a wall near the entrance of the Dolby Theatre. According to Ana Martinez, vice president of media relations for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and a producer of the Walk of Fame for the last 33 years, the champ made the request in a show of respect for his namesake.
“Ali asked Johnny Grant [the former chairman of the Walk of Fame selection panel] if there’s any way the star could be on a wall because the name of the Prophet Muhammad should not be walked upon,” Martinez said. And so it was done.
Myth: You don’t need talent. If you have enough money, you can buy a star.
Fact: Although talent is subjective and money is somewhat involved in attaining a star, one needs more than a suitcase of cash to be forever enshrined on the Walk of Fame.
“There is a process, we do not just give stars away,” Martinez says. “There’s a Walk of Fame selection panel of five, and a chair, who are all Walk of Famers. Each member represents a category, and they vote on the stars. Someone sponsors a nominee. It could be a production company, a studio, a recording label, family members, fan clubs … and they raise the money. The committee is five people and the chair, and they all have stars themselves.”
Even though the selection panel is relatively small, one can get in without a unanimous vote, but a nominee does need to be approved by a majority.
“They go back and forth sometimes. No fights have ever happened,” she says. “Yet.”
Myth: Donald Trump got his star due to the popularity of “The Apprentice.”
Fact: Despite the reality show being popular for several years, thanks to the likes of Omarosa and Flavor Flav, Donald Trump actually received his star in 2007 for the success he had producing the Miss Universe pageants, which he acquired in 1996.
“We have other producers and directors on the Walk of Fame as well,” Martinez says. Some of those producers include Clarence Avant, Lucille Ball, Mel Brooks, Jerry Bruckheimer and “The Apprentice” producer Mark Burnett.
Myth: Even if you don’t want a star, one will be made if there are enough votes.
Fact: Not only do you have to be into it, but you have to agree to be at the ceremony.
“I call this my ‘Bruce Springsteen Policy,'” Martinez says. “When he was elected — and it was unanimous, of course, it’s Bruce Springsteen — he turned it down. A fan nominated him, and he didn’t know anything about it. His management was not approached, and so he turned it down. Ever since then, we have celebrities sign off, or their management, and say they’re OK with it and they’ll be participating in the event once it has been scheduled if they are selected.”
The Boss isn’t alone in passing on the honor. Oscar winners Prince and Clint Eastwood are among the small group of stars who have passed on having a star.
Myth: The coronavirus has not affected the Walk of Fame.
Fact: So far this spring and summer, about a half-dozen ceremonies have been postponed due to COVID-19. Because the event includes many fans on the outskirts of the ceremony site and about 60 attendees who are family and friends tightly packed on chairs around a stage, the ceremonies were postponed since people wouldn’t be able to socially distance. Sorry, Aerosmith!
Myth: The great thing about stars on the street is they can’t be stolen.
Fact: Gregory Peck had his star on the corner of Hollywood and Gower since 1960 when well-prepared thieves absconded with it in broad daylight.
“These guys were wearing vests similar to those worn by city workers and stole it,” Martinez says, describing the way they cut out the star in a perfect square. They then lifted the 300-pound slab, put it in a truck and skedaddled never to be seen again.
“They just left a big hole out there,” said Johnny Grant, a longtime host of the Walk of Fame ceremonies. “Somebody went out there with a cement saw and carved it out of the black terrazzo.”
Peck’s star was quickly replaced, but not before newspapers had fun with the headlines. Notably, “A Star is Torn.”
Myth: Only Gregory Peck’s star had ever been pilfered.
Fact: Despite being ridiculously heavy and placed on busy streets, three other stars have been stolen from the crowded intersection at Hollywood and Vine.
In the early 1970s, soon after the first televised landing on the moon, four tributes to the American astronauts were commissioned on each of the corners of Hollywood and Vine, the center of Hollywood’s tourism back then. In order to make room for the tribute, other stars were taken away and destroyed, so new versions could be made and placed in different locations.
“Apparently, the guys who were working didn’t destroy a couple of them,” Martinez says. “The ones that were not destroyed were found in the backyard of a drug dealer. Johnny and I had to go to the South Gate police lockup to identify the star of Kirk Douglas and Jimmy Stewart.”
Decades later, a man named Bill called Martinez and inquired if it was legal to be in possession of a star. Once she told him it was a felony to hold onto a historically registered landmark, he quickly returned the star of Marilyn Miller, the actress and inspiration of one Marilyn Monroe.
“He also said his wife was upset because she wanted to have a table made out of it,” Martinez says.
Myth: Because the stars are on public streets, repairs and upkeep are paid for by taxpayers.
Fact: Part of the process of being honored with a star includes paying part of a $50,000-sponsorship to the Hollywood Historic Trust, which repairs and maintains the monuments. The rest of the funds go to the production of a star ceremony that fans and tourists can enjoy for free. Since more than 20 stars are issued each year, there’s plenty of money available to repair a star like Trump’s, which has been axed and defaced.
James Otis, an heir of the Otis Elevator Company, was one of the vandals who took a sledgehammer and a pickaxe to the terrazzo in 2016. Otis was sentenced to three years probation, about three weeks of public service and was forced to fork over $3,700 to the Hollywood Historic Trust and $700 to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
Two years later, Austin Clay also pled guilty to using a pickaxe on Trump’s star. Clay, too, was given probation and assigned public service but was fined over $9,000.
The daily cleaning of the sidewalks and stars of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, however, is done by the Hollywood Entertainment Business Improvement District (BID), which is funded by the 600-plus businesses within the area. Besides emptying the 275 street trash cans, power-washing sidewalks and removing graffiti, the BID also oversees the polishing and upkeep of the Walk of Fame stars.
“It is not taxpayer dollars that go into the cleaning of any star,” says Kristopher Larson, chief executive of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance. “There are 2,800 stars. We power-wash every star twice a week.” He also says they remove graffiti from between 10-50 stars a day.
Myth: Donald Trump’s star is the only one that is regularly defaced.
Fact: “We don’t always have stars targeted in the same way that you have with Trump’s star,” Larson says. “It’s obviously a special political scenario. Especially in these times. That star is defaced quite frequently now. And quite creatively in many cases.”
According to Martinez, “any star that has been damaged, and no matter who it belongs to, will be repaired.”
Myth: The City of West Hollywood was poised to remove Trump’s star a few years ago.
Fact: While the WeHo City Council did have a vote in the summer of 2018 — and the unanimous decision was to yank Trump’s star from the street — it was only a symbolic gesture. Additionally, the Walk of Fame isn’t even in West Hollywood. Thus, the good people of 90069 have no say over what takes place with their neighbors to the east.
The vote, however, made national news, and when it did, Leron Gubler, then-president and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said he would consider the recommendation.
“Once we receive a communication from the City of West Hollywood, it will be referred to our executive committee for consideration at their next meeting,” Gubler says. “As of now, there are no plans to remove any stars from the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The West Hollywood City Council does not have jurisdiction over the Hollywood Walk of Fame.”
Obviously, the star remained. But would the Chamber ever remove stars of convicted criminals or people who, over time, became highly controversial characters?
“I don’t think they have a mechanism for that,” Larson says. “[The NCAA] took Reggie Bush’s Heisman Trophy away. My wife had classes with Reggie. That’s a story Angelenos know. I don’t know if the Chamber has a mechanism for deciding after the fact — like, is there a character test or something like that?”