THR has found that up to one-fifth of the 2,500-plus stars are in a state of disrepair through a combination of neglect, deterioration and money questions, sullying a landmark that draws 10 million tourists annually.More than 10 million tourists flock to Hollywood's Walk of Fame each year, but in the early morning hours of Oct. 27, James Otis wasn't there to snap a selfie. The political protester instead wielded a sledgehammer and pickax to obliterate Donald Trump's star. "I thought if I took that symbol away, it would help a lot of people understand that what Trump said [about Latinos and other groups] wasn't right," Otis told THR. His pulverization, which netted international headlines, quickly was followed by work to repair Trump's star.
But most damaged stars, many bearing far more of the cultural symbolism Otis cited, receive lesser treatment: One-fifth of the 2,500-plus stars are in disrepair after decades of neglect, THR has found.
Longtime Hollywood Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Leron Gubler acknowledges this figure matches a city review conducted in the 2000s. Neither he nor any other Walk steward disputed THR's findings.
Touching every era and genre of entertainment, the damage ranges from minor cracks (Charlie Chaplin, Aaron Spelling, Aretha Franklin) and broken brass inlays (Al Jolson, Chris Rock, Edith Head) to large gouges (Irving Thalberg, Myrna Loy, Paul Rudd). Stars in the worst condition include those honoring Cecil B. DeMille, Ginger Rogers, Neil Diamond, Lucille Ball and Billy Wilder.
"It's troubling," says Oscar-nominated actress Terry Moore (1952's Come Back, Little Sheba). "We earned our stars." Adds Don Murray, who debuted opposite Marilyn Monroe in 1956's Bus Stop: "If I were a member of the chamber, I would hope I'd be bothered."
Actor Tab Hunter also points a finger at the chamber. "The Walk of Fame is a registered trademark of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce," he says. "They must be raking in the bucks. I wonder what they're doing with it."
Indeed, the disrepair is hard to reconcile with the roughly $1 million in annual revenue that the chamber — which selects honorees and stages the ceremonies at which stars are bestowed — appears to generate from the Walk. Along with the two dozen or so new stars added annually, each of which comes with a $30,000 "donation," licensing fees — from key chains, shot glasses and T-shirts sold in local tchotchke shops — amount to "six figures" annually, says Gubler.
The degradation of the Walk is far from new. In 1986, the head of the chamber noted that decay had begun a decade earlier, as the neighborhood itself went into decline. (The official's plan at that time was to fund a significant restoration, to the tune of $500,000, funded with an extensive merchandising pact that saw 170 celebrities, from Kirk Douglas to Charlton Heston, agree to allowing products bearing their starred names to be sold at local souvenir shops.) Yet even as gentrification has swept through the surrounding blocks in recent years — Charlize Theron sold her multimillion-dollar penthouse in a renovated loft building at the southwest corner of Hollywood and Vine earlier this year — the Walk remains a wreck.
With the Walk of Fame, first rolled out in 1960 as a civic boosters' gimmick (the selection committee included DeMille, Samuel Goldwyn and Walt Disney), merit never has been the key criterion: George Clooney and Diane Keaton are among the top names absent, while stars honoring radio DJs proliferate. A new star almost always is donated by a studio, network, record label or other corporate patron and usually is timed to a release — Quentin Tarantino was inducted during his 2015 Hateful Eight Oscar bid, and Lee Daniels' ceremony is slated for Dec. 2, with his Fox series Star to premiere 12 days later. Still, even as the transactional nature of the honor generates the occasional eye roll, the Walk retains its status as a global tourism draw and atavistic shrine to the sparkle of Hollywood. The stars' metamorphosis into public gravestones has been consecrated by TV news crews' invariable rush to seek out shots of the commemorative flowers placed by the chamber-affiliated Hollywood Historic Trust as soon as an honoree passes away. "It's almost a morbid thing, its memento mori quality — people carefully walking around Cary Grant and then walking right over the stars who've faded away to anonymity," says CalArts urban and media historian Norman Klein, the author of The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory
Half the donation for each star ostensibly is earmarked for maintenance, yet Jeff Briggs, a veteran member of the Hollywood Historic Trust, which is responsible for preserving the Walk, concedes the allotment "isn't exclusively spent on repairs," with some going toward uses "consistent with the mission," such as streetscape holiday lighting. The chamber is not required to itemize expenditures as a 501(c)(6) nonprofit.
Made from pink and black terrazzo pavement, stars are supposed to be installed to stringent specifications. Terrazzo, marble chips mixed in concrete, is brittle; subpar workmanship can exacerbate its fragility. "People haven't done it the right way at times," says Ted Lambros, head of Alhambra, Calif.-based Arcadian Flooring Co., which has done restoration work on the Walk. "There hasn't been a prioritization of craftsmanship if you're having so many of these problems with excessive cracks. The terrazzo in front of Clifton's Cafeteria on Broadway [in downtown Los Angeles] is decades older than the Walk and in great condition because it was laid well." (Complete star restoration costs $5,000 to $10,000.)
Independent terrazzo diagnostician Fritz Iselin, who consulted with the chamber on repair work a decade ago, found the concrete underbeds serving as the base of the Walk to be often uneven. "The original slabs were not smooth," he says. "They weren't done perfectly flat." The Walk's primary installer for decades, Top End Constructors, did not respond to THR's repeated requests for an interview.