Eric Czuleger, author of Immortal L.A.
You can tell who is a tourist on Hollywood Boulevard. In Los Angeles tourists look down as they walk. In New York they look up. I’m sure there is some grander point buried in that but it’s not one I’m going to explore right now. At the intersection of Hollywood and Highland, amidst the costume characters and the fluorescent lights outside of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! groups of Americans and internationals alike scan the dingy sidewalk for a plot of coral and charcoal colored terrazzo*. They’re looking at names surrounded by brass stars.
The origins of The Walk of Fame go back to the late fifties when Los Angeles realized that economic powerhouse of celebrity. Previous to this, staple industries included oranges, diamonds, and manure. But the cache of the entertainment industry came to Los Angeles, and the city council heeded the call. They needed something to symbolize the aspirations of many and the realities of a few. They needed a symbol that conveyed the eternal and the momentary. They needed something that you could put around a name. And so, a star was born. The star was born.
The exact origin of the symbol is up for debate. Earliest references to entertainers as “stars” go back to 18th century English playhouses and music halls. Several hundred years later, we have 2,514 six-pointed brass stars inlaid in six-foot intervals for 1.3 miles of West Hollywood. But that’s the cool thing about a good symbol- it’s durable; it stays around because it says a lot with a little. A successful symbol, like a successful celebrity, changes effortlessly with the times.
“The Star System” was a cornerstone of early Hollywood. Studios kept stables of actors locked into draconian contracts that capitalized on selling the image of their stars rather than the films themselves. Entertainers were turned into singing, dancing commodities, each endowed with origin stories and gimmicks** that would give professional wrestling a run for it’s money. Morality clauses were common in these contracts, the star was a representative of the studio and therefore their behavior could damage the brand considerably. Male and female stars were cast in life as in their films – as exemplars of fashion, grace, and morality. Essentially, it was nothing like today.
From The Golden Age of Hollywood onward there emerged the carefully branded dream of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce acting president in 1953, E.M. Stuart, argued for The Walk of Fame saying that it aimed “to maintain the glory of a community whose name means glamour and excitement in the four corners of the world.” It’s easy to imagine flashbulbs popping and newsboys exclaiming “What a scoop!” after a quote like that.
And so, in 1957, after legal wrangling and ferocious debate over the design of the now ubiquitous Los Angeles landmark “the walk of fame” was revealed**. Form was given to an idea that was sold in American studios in the 20s, born in English playhouses in the 18th century, and that bears no resemblance to swirling balls of ignited gas that we can observe in the night sky. History is cool. A piece of brass around a name laid in a sidewalk. It’s a perfect symbol for a city that sells make-believe in the billions. Here, immortality is having your name laid in stone. Even if you’re forgotten*** your star still shines dimly in the fluorescent light of Hollywood and Highland.
*Fun fact: the word “gimmick” first appeared in the Wise-Crack Dictionary in 1926. It was defined as, “A device used for making a fair game crooked.”**It was unveiled section by section, but I’m writing a blog here, not a book. You’re a busy person you don’t need all the details.*** Honestly, who remembers who “Parkyakarkus” was? (I do. He was a comedy writer and a cousin of Albert Einstein, and you can find his star on the Walk of Fame on the east side of the 1700 block of Vine Street.)
The San Andreas Fault is the gateway to hell. The Hollywood Hills are mass graves of angels. William Mulholland defies God himself. Satan gets plastic surgery on Sunset Boulevard. A dead boy is stuck in traffic next to a vampire who can’t sleep, and an angel who has a an audition for the role of an angel. The stars are in the sky and on the pavement. The wolves are prowling. The weather is perfect. The screenplay is written. The soul is sold. This movie is going to be big- really big. Welcome to Immortal L.A. You’re going to love it here.
A Five Star Read at Amazon Kindle Store
"If you love fantasy mixed with social satire this is a must read! Starting with what he calls "The Abridged Corrected History of Los Angeles" playwright, Eric Czuleger has crafted a novel that depicts Los Angeles as the Battlefield of Angels, the gateway to hell and a city where you sell your soul for fame and riches. I laughed out loud at his explanation for why Los Angeles has so many sunny days."