If you’ve ever visited Los Angeles, you know that Hollywood is a popular stop. Whether you visit the filming studios or take a tour of the stars’ homes, there’s just something magical about Tinseltown, and one very popular attraction is the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This is a stretch of sidewalk where celebrities ranging from actors to singers to comedians and more are commemorated forever with a gilded star in the pavement bearing their name. But, how did this rite of passage and famous landmark come to be?
A dream in 1953
According to the official Hollywood Walk of Fame website, there are a number of inaccurate stories swirling around the internet that attempt to explain the walk’s history. But as far as they’re concerned, the real origins began in 1953 when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce president, E.M. Stuart, proposed the idea of creating the walk. In his words, it would “maintain the glory of a community whose name means glamour and excitement in the four corners of the world.”
Stuart immediately gathered a committee to begin planning out the logistics and designing a concept. While the true origins of the design are still a mystery, most people believe that the group drew inspiration from the stars painted on the dining room ceiling of the Hollywood Hotel. However, it wasn’t until 1955 that plans for the walk truly began to take shape and in 1956 the Chamber of Commerce formally voted and approved the project.
Design drama and planning
Did you know that the original idea for the stars was to have an honoree’s caricature in addition to his/her name on it? There were a number of concepts that were floated, including even having the sidewalks be brown and blue rather than a bland concrete gray. However, the planners realized that drawing caricatures might prove difficult, and it’s rumored that the blue and brown sidewalks were scrapped because local businessman C.E. Toberman thought they would clash with a new building he was developing on Hollywood Boulevard.
Ultimately, the team settled on the present colors of black and coral and a star that simply lists the honoree’s name and an icon to depict his/her entertainment category. The original categories included motion picture, television, recording, and radio.
Picking the honorees
While the Chamber of Commerce waited for the Los Angeles City Council’s approval to begin the build, they created the Hollywood Improvement Association to oversee the process and manage all activities related to the walk. This included managing the selection process for the initial group of inductees. The selection committee was a “who’s who” of Hollywood royalty with names such as Walt Disney, Cecil B. DeMille, and Samuel Goldwyn serving as judges in the Motion Picture Selection Committee. In 1958 the original eight honorees and their accompanying stars were unveiled with plans to begin construction shortly thereafter. The first honorees were Olive Borden, Ronald Colman, Louise Fazenda, Preston Foster, Burt Lancaster, Edward Sedgwick, Ernest Torrence, and Joanne Woodward.
It’s no surprise that there was controversy over who was—and wasn’t—part of the first round of inductees. Most notably, Charlie Chaplin’s supposed snub in the first wave continued to cause a stir. His son, Charlie Chaplin Jr., actually filed a $400,000 lawsuit for damages because his father was excluded. This suit halted construction until 1959 when a judge ruled that Chaplin Jr. had no case. (Charlie Chaplin was added in 1972.)
Even though the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce agreed on building the walk in 1956, it took much more time to receive approval from the city. Beyond just approving the plans, the city had to create an assessment district to determine the cost of this project. Construction finally began on the walk on February 8, 1960. The first star was placed near the intersection of Hollywood and Gower. Oddly enough, that first star wasn’t one of the initial honorees. It was Stanley Kramer’s, a famous director, and it was placed on March 28 of the same year. That following November, the walk was dedicated, and in the spring of 1961, work was completed.
Beyond the planning process
Once the walk was complete, the Los Angeles City Council recognized that it would need an organization to oversee the selection process for new honorees. As a result, the city asked the Chamber of Commerce to continue to serve as the lead for that process. The chamber agreed and worked on creating a long-term strategy for adding new nominees. It wasn’t until 1968 that another name, Danny Thomas, was added to the walk. In 1978, the walk was added to the Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument list.
Today, there are more than 2,600 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which runs along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard. The categories have expanded to include motion pictures, broadcast television, audio recording/music, broadcast radio, and theatre/live performance. Every year, more than 200 nominations are submitted for consideration. Next time you're in Los Angeles, take a stroll down the walk and see if you can spot your favorite celebrities' names.