Hollywood Walk of Fame: Michael Jackson's Star & a Cup of Coffee

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Michael Jackson was the first to receive two Hollywood Walk of Fame stars for the same category.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame symbolizes the realized dreams of entertainment celebrities in its terrazzo-and-brass stars that attract tourists year-round from around the world to Los Angeles, California. The celebrity recipient of a star along the Walk of Fame gains the distinction of having his name and particular industry genre, though not his face and personality, commemorated forever— or at least for as long as the Walk physically exists— whether or not forthcoming generations will care about or even learn of the honoree. History, of any kind, is only as enduring as a populace’s interest. And the importance of a sidewalk star— as with anything— is always in the mind of the perceiver.

The sidewalk stars are awarded to celebrities active or once-active in the entertainment field, whether alive or dead— or fictional, such as Disney fairy Tinkerbell— by the Walk of Fame Committee, established by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. About two hundred celebrities annually are nominated. Any person or organization can nominate as long as the nominee’s management agrees, in writing, with the nomination. Of the nominees, the Committee selects an annual average of twenty. Those selected must schedule a presentation ceremony within five years. The $25,000 fee for the creation and installation of the star as well as for Walk of Fame maintenance must be paid upfront. Usually the nominating organization— such as a fan club, record company, or movie studio— pays. It’s great publicity.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame, which enters its official 50th year in 2010, leads hordes of human bipeds and their quadruped pets along sidewalks inlaid with more than two thousand five-point stars emblazoned with the names of contributors to the five main genres of the entertainment field— live theatre, recording, broadcast radio, broadcast television, and film (symbolized respectively by twin comedy-tragedy masks, phonograph with record, radio microphone, television set with rabbit ears, and motion picture camera). Among rare exceptions is the Hollywood Reporter star with an image of the trade paper. Each 3’x3’ star is made of pink terrazzo with white and black flecks— terrazzo is composed of marble chips, other fine aggregates, and concrete. The other star components are brass, an alloy of copper and zinc— the star border, the industry symbol (embossed within a round motif), and the celebrity’s name in capitals. This composite star is embedded into a black terrazzo square splotched with white.

Designed by Oliver Weismuller, the Walk of Fame— a Historic-Culture Monument as of 1978— has become a three-and-a-half mile round-trip walk that runs west on Hollywood Boulevard from Gower Avenue to La Brea Avenue and north to south on Vine Street between Yucca Street and Sunset Boulevard.

Having lived on a street just off La Brea where La Brea ends, at the foot of the Hollywood Hills, my family and I often tramped the two blocks to the Hollywood Walk of Fame with its shuffling crowd— a mix of shoppers, diners, movie-goers, club-goers, star-gazers, sightseers, performing musicians and dancers, costumed actors and pseudo-actors, vendors, Jimmy-Kimmel-Show-goers, and plain Hollywood citizens, including the homeless. We traipsed through the human woods and over the plains of terrazzo-and-brass stars— while skirting picture-taking tourists— just to get a cup of coffee, sometimes at the Bourgeois Pig, sometimes at a Coffee Bean.

Regardless of the occasion that multiplied the pedestrians thronging the Walk of Fame— the Academy Awards or American Idol hosted at the Kodak Theater, a film premiere with Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes or with Christian Bale or James Franco, or Christopher Walken imprinting his hands and feet into wet cement in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater— we often took our coffee at the Coffee Bean near El Capitan Theatre and just across from Grauman’s. If no helicopters buzzed overhead and no sirens wailed on the streets, we’d sit outside. Otherwise, we’d go within. Drinking hot coffee despite its copious caffeine can be soothing after mixing with the masses.

In our daily accessibility, we took the Walk of Fame for granted, as well as the memorials that occasionally appeared on them. In 2004, we barely paused by the memorial flowers and lit candles adorning the terrazzo star for actor Christopher Reeve after his death on October 10 of that year. Many more celebrities have since died. Among them was dancer-actor Patrick Swayze. Though the remembrance flowers placed near his star upon his death on September 14, 2009 are gone, fans’ flowers and artifacts remain. But one day soon, the star will be cleared— just as Farrah Fawcett’s and Michael Jackson’s stars were cleared of fans’ mementos and the floral memorials bestowed by the Hollywood Historic Trust on the morning after the two celebrities’ deaths on June 25, 2009.

Michael Jackson was the first to receive two Hollywood Walk of Fame stars for the same category. He received one as a member of The Jackson Five and another as a solo artist— each star bears the phonograph insignia to denote the recording industry. The Jackson Five star lies at 1500 Vine Street. (Nearby at 1542 Vine is a star bearing a microphone for a different Michael Jackson who was a radio personality.) Mr. Jackson’s friend Diana Ross followed his lead— she received a star as one of The Supremes and later as a solo artist. The Beatles are also following suit. Almost. The Beatles— the late John Lennon, Paul McCartney, the late George Harrison, and Ringo Starr— share a star but not all four have individual stars. While John and George each have one and Ringo will have his own in 2010, the ex-Beatle who collaborated with Michael Jackson on a couple of songs in the early1980s— Sir Paul— does not yet have even the promise of one.

Michael Jackson’s individual star lies prominently at 6927 Hollywood Boulevard in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Almost everyone stops to stare. And though the star holds no trace of the King of Pop’s recent memorial, everyone steps around as if an invisible shield surrounds it. And if my family and I still lived nearby, we’d sit together at the Coffee Bean just across the street and watch the hordes paying their respects to the phenomenal Michael Jackson. And we’d each raise a cup of coffee in our own silent homage.

The memorial is gone but Michael Jackson's star remains clear of footfalls.

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