19 October 2009

The Hollywood Walk of Fame

A brunch date yesterday on Hollywood Boulevard afforded me the opportunity to examine — for the first time in many, many years — the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s quite a brilliant idea: so many mythical cities pave the streets with gold, but Hollywood is paved with stars! Yet almost nothing about the Walk of Fame makes logical sense.

We do exalt certain artists, we elevate them to the status of stars — something over our heads, both in the sense that we look up to them as superior to us, and in the sense that we can’t quite understand them. And yet on the Walk of Fame, we take those stars and we abase them, we place them on the ground, where we step on them: and just so, there are a good number of “stars” whose names we don’t know.

Naturally, I’ve forgotten the names of those I didn’t recognize, but I can give you an obscure example: Michael Ansara. He was married to Barbara Eden for a while, and he appeared in an episode of the original Star Trek. These things I know off the top of my head, without consulting the Internet Movie Database. Does the average twentysomething today know who he is? What will we remember about him, 20 years from now?

‘Day of the Dove’: Ansara as Kang

It’s fascinating to stroll along the Walk, and to watch others doing the same. We hunt and gather, searching for, then pouncing on names we recognize. We collect: in just two blocks, I found Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, and Gene Roddenberry, a matching set of Star Trek luminaries!

Collecting stars is impulsive behavior, it’s true, yet not completely divorced from reason. Not so the reverence we feel toward the pavement. I felt it myself — that graveside awe, much as if the celebrity in question were buried under that star. Yet the pavement in this spot has only scant connection to the person: it’s possible that Ginger Rogers came for the unveiling of her star, but apart from that, why should this bit of pavement be any more significant to her, or to her fans, than any other? I daresay there are plenty of sidewalks she frequented more than this one, and she left her handprints in the sidewalk in front of Grauman’s Chinese. On the Walk of Fame, we have only her name, not even her signature.

When you’re on the Walk of Fame, you don’t think this way. You get caught up in — what, exactly? Is it excitement? Yes. (But why?) Is it glamour? Sort of. (But we’re stepping on it.) Is it nostalgia, the magnetic attraction of our personal memories, summoned by the glimpse of a name?

I watched others taking pictures of Jimi Hendrix’s star, which lies just outside the restaurant where I ate. It’s a most unlikely shrine, and I’m betting Hendrix never set foot anywhere near it. You could take a piece of chalk and write his name on the sidewalk in front of your own home, and it would be equally relevant. Why do we feel that this sidewalk, in this place, is more worthy of our tributes?

And yet we come, and linger and gape, and remember. We pay homage to people we didn’t know, on a spot they never (or seldom) visited; we thank them for communicating directly with us and millions of others just like us. And then, at last, we walk on.

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