On June 20, the multi-talented Jennifer Lopez received the Walk of Fame’s 2,500th star, a momentous occasion for Hollywood and its 53-year-old historical landmark.
While much has changed since film director and producer Stanley Kramer received the first star on March 28, 1960, the internationally-recognized Walk continues to grow as a tourist destination, representatives of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce said.
“I think it’s become even more of an international icon,” said chamber president and CEO Leron Gubler, who is in his 20th year with the organization. “The Walk of Fame is a great institution, a great landmark for Los Angeles. We feel the responsibility to maintain it and continue to build it up and improve it.”
E.M. Stuart, who was the volunteer president of the chamber in 1953, has been credited with the idea for the Walk of Fame. In a chamber press release, he proposed the Walk, saying it could “maintain the glory of a community whose name means glamour and excitement in the four corners of the world.”
Plans for the Walk of Fame were submitted to the Los Angeles City Council in 1956, when council members instructed the city’s Board of Public Works to prepare engineering specifications and an assessment district to fund improvements, according to the chamber website.
The chamber eventually created the Hollywood Improvement Association, led by businessman Harry Sugarman. Under his leadership, the association selected the Walk’s initial honorees in four different categories — motion picture, television, recording and radio.
On Aug. 15, 1958, the chamber and the city of Los Angeles offered a preview of eight stars at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. The honorees were Olive Bordon, Ronald Colman, Louise Fazenda, Preston Foster, Burt Lancaster, Edward Sedwick, Ernest Torrance and Joanne Woodward.
Construction was to begin soon thereafter, though it was delayed by two lawsuits — one challenged the legality of the assessment district, while the other was filed by Charlie Chaplin Jr., who was seeking $400,000 in damages for omitting his father from the initial selections for the Walk.
The work began on Feb. 8, 1960, and Kramer received his star that March. Although the work wasn’t completed until 1961, the Walk of Fame was dedicated on Nov. 23, 1960. In 1961, when the Walk was approved by the Board of Public Works, the first 1,558 stars had been placed.
In 1962, council members approved an ordinance to have the chamber create the rules to determine honoree eligibility, the procedure to process candidates and a plan for financing the addition of new honorees.
This proved time-consuming, so the chamber did not induct another person into the Walk of Fame until 1968, when actor/comedian Danny Thomas hosted a star unveiling for producer and studio executive Richard Zanuck.
Since then, the star ceremonies have been held regularly. In 1975, Carol Burnett received the 99th star to be added to the original 1,558 on the Walk of Fame. In 1994, actress Sophia Loren received the 2,000th star.
However, the Walk of Fame and Hollywood itself fell on tough times in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. Gubler said at that time, the chamber was having difficulties getting honorees to agree to do the star ceremonies — until it offered to give actor Johnny Grant a star.
According to the chamber, Grant was very enthusiastic about receiving a star and ended up creating a memorable ceremony. The chamber was impressed, and offered Grant the opportunity to chair the Walk of Fame.
He did so until his death in 2008. Grant helped add a fifth category — live theatre — to the Walk of Fame, and he also approved the creation of a second row of stars on the sidewalk, allowing the chamber to accommodate more honorees.
“Johnny was great,” Gubler said. “He kept it going. People just assume the Walk was always a huge success. … Johnny really deserves a lot of credit for what he did.”
His effort helped lead the chamber to last Thursday’s event outside the W Hotel, where approximately 1,100 people came to see Lopez be honored, said Ana Martinez, producer of the ceremonies. She said the chamber’s social media accounts received a lot of feedback from fans, who thanked the chamber and said the honor was well-deserved.
“The fans went crazy. …She is an all-around entertainer, she has staying power, and we thought she was a good choice,” Martinez said. She then referenced Loren’s 2,000th star ceremony and said, “We went from that beauty to this modern beauty.”
Having produced the ceremonies for the last 26 years, she agreed that the Walk of Fame’s fame is growing. Martinez feared for the landmark when the economy tanked in 2008, but no one cancelled, despite the $30,000 sponsorship fee — half of which goes toward Walk of Fame maintenance.
“I’m getting more requests — all year round,” she added. “It’s just constant. It hasn’t stopped.”
Martinez recalled a Grant quote: “It’s the only award that you can share with your fans.” She said so many people visit the Walk of Fame every day, taking pictures with their favorite stars.
“It’s a great tourist attraction,” Martinez said.
Before Lopez’s ceremony, chamber officials announced the 2014 selections to the Walk of Fame. In motion pictures, the honorees are Orlando Bloom, Ray Dolby, Sally Field, Jack H. Harris, Jessica Lange, Matthew McConaughey, Liam Neeson, Paul Mazursky and Tom Sherak; in television, Dabney Coleman, Kaley Cuoco, Claire Danes, Giancarlo Esposito, Deidre Hall, Cheryl Hines, Don Mischer, Tavis Smiley and Phil Hartman (posthumously); in recording, Holland Dozier Holland, Jeff Lynne, Mana, Ray Parker Jr., Katy Perry, Rick Springfield and Tupac Amaru Shakur (posthumous); in radio, Renán Almendárez Coello.
The deadline to submit 2015 requests is May 30, 2014. For information, or to watch live streams of the ceremonies, visit www.walkoffame.com.
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