The slightly esteemed Hollywood Walk of Fame is many things to many people. It’s a flashy testament to the big names in the industry, a celebration of glamour, an honor bestowed to beloved icons, a gaudy piece of fluffy hype, or a cash-grab for the city and a PR stunt for studios. As is usually the case in Hollywood all of these hold truth, and also fall short of explaining things. Understanding this it may be surprising, while not shocking, to learn that while marveling at the many movie stars underfoot you can do so while drinking the Official Vodka of the Walk of Fame.
To begin, The Walk of Fame is not exactly the “Hall of Fame” honor many attach to it. Celebrities are recognized in five categories: Film, Television, Recording, Radio, and Live Performance. In order for a luminary to become considered for a star they must fall into a set of criteria: They need to be nominated to the selection committee, they need at least five years of experience in the field in which they are recognized, they must be present at the unveiling ceremony, and a $30,000 fee must be paid. This means quite often a star receives their Star in conjunction with an impending career achievement. For instance, The Muppets were enshrined underfoot a few weeks ago, and as many in the press said it was a long overdue honor it more than coincidentally occurred at the very time their latest film was being released on DVD.
But more surprising yet is that many plaques embedded into the sidewalks between Highland Avenue and Orange Drive fall outside the expected categories. For example, while you can understand how Variety, The Los Angeles Times and The Hollywood Reporter might warrant recognition in the city of Hollywood, those publications do not exactly land within those recognized categories.
Even less logical though are a number of other Los Angeles institutions being recognized that, while integral to the municipality, generally fail to live up to the requirements set up by the WOF selection committee. Magic Johnson is possibly one of the largest sports stars in the L.A. area, but there was a struggle within the organization to include him into the famous Walk. Then it was decided he warranted inclusion after all, based on the fact he lent his name to a national theater group (it has since been absorbed by the AMC chain.) No such logic exists however for explaining why The LAPD is enshrined in terrazzo-and-brass, as is for some unknown reason, the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. (Though Magic Johnson’s bid to purchase the team may soon provide a valid excuse.)
Justification is something the LA Chamber of Commerce has become adept at wielding when it comes to these decisions. The Astronauts from the Apollo 11 mission all have placemarks, surrounding another star sporting the moon at its center. The explanation given is their historical lunar landing was regarded as a “Television Event”. Asked to comment on the inclusion, longtime WOF governor Johnny Grant quipped, “People will want Orville Redenbacher honored, because his popcorn is in all theaters.”
This turns out to not be far off from describing decisions the committee would make years later. There are a number of names among the near 2,500 honored who are not stars so much as industry fixtures. Thomas Edison and George Eastman (of Kodak fame) have their stars in regards to the contributions they made to cinema, as does another corporate name, Max Factor. However Max was actually honored for his work as a longtime Hollywood makeup artist. Not so the case regarding another makeup magnate, L’Oreal.
That company has its patch of real estate on the sidewalks as a result of a move by the WOF committee to generate more revenue for restoration purposes. Thus the glamour group is acknowledged as a “Friend of The Walk of Fame”, and it was given a granite marker as a result. And this brings us to the vodka angle. It happens that this is not a celebration of alcohol delivering decades inspiring writers and corrupting performers however. Another corporation looked at as chums to the WOF is the Swedish brand, Absolut. In the summer of 2008 the Pernod distillery ponied up a reported $1 million for what the company described as an “Honorary Star”. And, in true Walk-of-Fame fashion, it used the unveiling event to also promote their new Los Angeles blend of vodka.
As an aside, there is one other troubling addition that turns out to be not so troubling. If you find yourself at Hollywood & Vine, then head south, you are likely to encounter the pink tile for another well known corporate presence resting under your Sketchers. As it turns out this is not another blatant corporate buyout. No, it seems there is a longtime radio personality granted a star who happened to build a long career on the Los Angeles airwaves — this despite sporting the same moniker as an animated canned fish mascot.