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Fallen stars: the dark history of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame

With the West Hollywood City Council voting to have Donald Trumps star removed, other problematic celebrities could face a similar fate

Donald Trump may be impervious to attacks on Twitter or by the papers he brands fake news, but his critics have found a real-world location in which to vent their feelings: his star on Hollywood Boulevards Walk of Fame. The presidents terrazzo plaque, which was unveiled on 17 January 2007, has been scrawled on, and sledgehammered by protesters since he began his White House campaign. In 2016, an artist called Plastic Jesus built a 6in wall, complete with razor wire, around the star in a response to Trumps aggressive policies on immigration. Last month, a man was arrested in Hollywood for all but demolishing the presidents star with a pickaxe.

Proof that nothing Trump-related can stay off Twitter for long came last summer when a proud presidential supporter tweeted her good deed in cleaning graffiti from Trumps star: Nothing but respect for MY President. #RaisedRight. Naturally, her tweet became a meme, and earned a volley of responses, with those less sympathetic to the president posting their allegiance to various alternative MY Presidents, from Shrek to Gillian Anderson. Now the West Hollywood City Council has voted unanimously that Trumps star should be removed from the Walk of Fame but theres a catch. The council has no jurisdiction over the tributes, which are owned and overseen instead by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

Trump is not the only politician to have a star on the Walk of Fame former president Ronald Reagan has been celebrated there since the first plaques were unveiled in February 1960, and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger earned his place in 1987. Neither plaque seems to have attracted the same vitriol and hands-on protest as Trumps, although Reagans star was circled by peaceful animal rights activists in 1981, and in 1987 director Julien Temple removed a shot of it being urinated on from his video for David Bowies Day-In Day-Out, before it was accepted for rotation on MTV. Bowie was granted his own star a decade later.

You dont need to be a politician to find your star vandalized. In 2014 Bill Cosbys star was daubed with the word rapist, and following his conviction for multiple sexual assaults earlier this year, the Chamber was asked to remove his star permanently. The answer is no, said Leron Gubler, president and chief executive of the Chamber. Once a star has been added to the Walk, it is considered a part of the historic fabric of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. That hard line refusal goes for other celebrities facing #MeToo accusations of sexual misconduct too, including Kevin Spacey and Brett Ratner.

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Donald Trump in 2007. Photograph: Damian Dovarganes/AP

That historic fabric contains plenty of other problematic names, including several people accused (but not convicted) of sexual misconduct in recent years, from Morgan Freeman to Sylvester Stallone, or others such as Oliver Stone, who was forced to apologise for antisemitic remarks in 2010, or Wesley Snipes, who spent three years in prison for tax evasion. Alfred Hitchcock has two stars, for his film and TV work, which remain in place despite Tippi Hedrens accusations of assault and harassment on set. Looking further back, the Walk contains a star commemorating Wallace Beery, subject of many gruesome accusations around his first marriage to Gloria Swanson and the several child actors who shrank from working with him. Jerry Lee Lewis, likewise, is celebrated despite an accusation of spousal abuse and the scandal around his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin. TV and film actor Gig Youngs star remains despite the NYPDs conclusion that he murdered his wife (moments before killing himself) in 1978.

Roscoe Arbuckle, accused but entirely exonerated of raping and murdering Virginia Rappe in 1921, took his place in the first 1960 cohort and rightfully so. What may be more surprising is that his peer Charlie Chaplin did not receive a star until 1972. He was nominated when the plans for the walk were drawn up in 1956, but controversially excluded, possibly more for his political views than his 1944 trafficking charge (and acquittal). There were yet more angry letters when his star was finally installed. No surprise that the child abuse allegations swirling around the late Michael Jackson have prompted some Hollywood vandalism, but earlier this year his daughter Paris nobly removed some misguided graffiti from the star belonging to his namesake, a British radio host.

Incidentally, if youre wondering whether the stars belonging to Oscar-winning directors Roman Polanski or Woody Allen have become contentious, the answer is that they dont exist. Presence on the Walk of Fame is by no means an automatic honor a celebrity has to be nominated, then they have to accept it and someone has to cough up $40,000. The money goes to the upkeep of the plaques, and the unveiling ceremony, livestreamed around the world. For some famous names, the ceremony is too much of a chore. The Chamber instituted an informal Springsteen policy after the Boss failed to turn up on the appointed day. Some nominees, including George Clooney, Denzel Washington and John Denver, never set a date. Others, including Clint Eastwood, simply declined the honor. And who can blame them for being reluctant to join a club that includes Trump, Cosby and Spacey, but not, say, Carrie Fisher, Oprah Winfrey or Spike Lee? The Walk of Fame is both wildly inconsistent (Henry and Peter Fonda, but not Jane; no Madonna or Prince) and predictably biased. Analysis reveals that the Walk of Fame is overwhelmingly white, with just 5.1% of stars belonging to African American celebrities. And corporations are taking up space that could be given to those who are missing out. Brands including Absolut Vodka and LOreal have bought their own stars, for $1m apiece.

The Walk of Fame isnt what it used to be either, with many of the plaques, even those belonging to the most beloved stars, in a state of disrepair. In 2005, Gregory Pecks star was cut out of the ground with a cement saw and carried off by thieves. Previously stars have been stolen only when they were temporarily displaced during construction work. Hollywood Boulevard itself isnt all such prime real estate as it once was, either as highlighted in 1990s Pretty Woman, where once-tony sections of the sidewalk have become a red-light district, with Julia Roberts and Laura San Giacomo playing streetwalkers who work Bob Hope, we work the Ritz Brothers, we work Fred Astaire, we work all the way down to Ella Fitzgerald! Although the cult fame of that rom-com means that stretch now attracts extra tourists following the Pretty Woman trail around Los Angeles, the association may explain Roberts ongoing reluctance to accept a star on the Walk.

Perhaps we should accept Trumps place on the boulevard of broken reputations. If the Walk of Fame is an attempt to give a movie colony, built on stardom and studio cash, some concrete and marble foundations, its bound to develop some cracks. Maybe it will do democracy good to see the presidential plaque trampled or worse. Muhammad Ali had the right idea, back in 2002. He accepted the nomination for a star, but insisted the plaque be mounted on the wall instead of the ground, so he wouldnt be walked all over by people who have no respect for me.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2018/aug/09/hollywood-walk-of-fame-dark-history-trump-star

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