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A walk half a century long



Above is Hollywood, the actual geographic place, as Carole Lombard knew it (this photo of Hollywood Boulevard, looking west, was taken in 1937). But as we all know, Hollywood isn't just a location, a section of Los Angeles. It's mythic, legendary, a state of mind, both Olympus and Valhalla. (Some of its detractors might also compare to Sodom and Gomorrah, but we'll ignore that.)

Those who lived, worked or had businesses in the actual Hollywood wondered how to connect the flesh-and-blood place to the larger-than-life Hollywood that's been in the collective public imagination since the second decade of the 20th century.

The answer was right under their noses. No, let me correct that -- it was right under their feet.



It's the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which has become every bit as iconic as many of the personalities it honors. And this year marks the 50th anniversary that Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street have had the distinctive star sidewalks.

The driving force behind the Walk was a man named E.M. Stuart, who in 1953 was volunteer president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. The Walk of Fame was part of a refurbishment project for the neighborhood; as Stuart envisioned it, an improvement association would fund construction costs. To promote the project, actress Virginia Mayo installed a star at Hollywood Boulevard and Argyle Avenue in June 1956, as Stuart, left, and Harry M. Sugarman of the Hollywood Improvement Association looked on:



One-time Lombard co-star Preston Foster was among those receiving a demonstration star in 1958, but the first actual pink terrazzo star laid down was for director Stanley Kramer in early 1960. And the first person to have a star ceremony was actress Joanne Woodward on Feb. 9, 1960:



About 2,500 blank stars were set down on Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, the neighborhood's two most famous thoroughfares. More than 1,500 of them were inscribed over the next 18 months, although few, if any, received ceremonies. As one might expect, Lombard was part of the initial group of honorees, but I'm unaware whether Clark Gable ever saw her star (or his, for that matter) prior to his death in November 1960. (Charlie Chaplin, still a controversial figure in 1960, didn't receive his star until 1972.)

The Walk of Fame was designed as a way to improve the Hollywood business district, but decay continued into the 1970s despite occasional new names added to the Walk. Enter a longtime Los Angeles radio personality named Johnny Grant.



In 1978, the city of Los Angeles named the Walk a historic cultural monument. Grant, a member of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, was asked to lead a project to restart the star-awarding process, which began anew in 1980. Dubbed "the honorary mayor of Hollywood," Grant added sparkle and panache to the ceremonies, which through shows such as "Entertainment Tonight" became nationally recognized events. (That's Grant with Susan Lucci at her star ceremony.) By the time of Grant's death in January 2008, the Walk of Fame had become iconic, a major driving force behind Hollywood tourism.

Like its eastern sister in glamour, Times Square in New York, Hollywood has bounced back from decay, stronger than ever. Some may argue it's become too corporate, losing some of its raffish soul, but the place is booming...and so is the Walk of Fame.

There are a number of Web sites dedicated to the Walk, and we'll mention two. First, the official site from the Chamber of Commerce itself, http://www.hollywoodchamber.net/index.php?page=7, It contains all sorts of information about the Walk, including a directory (Lombard's star is at 6930 Hollywood Boulevard, between the El Capitan Theater and the Hollywood Roosevelt).



(We should also note the Chamber has scheduled a gala on Nov. 3 to cap the golden anniversary celebration.)

The other site we like, also under Chamber auspices, is http://www.walkoffame50.com/ Go to the home page to find out why.
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