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On Hollywood's big weekend, look to the sidewalk for show business history

March 6, 2010 |  7:57 am

With the Academy Awards in Hollywood this weekend, millions will be looking up at the stars.

But if you look to the ground on the sidewalks of Tinseltown, you see stars too. On a night that celebrates the hot new performers and movies, the Hollywood Walk of Fame is a history lesson in show business.

Since its beginning in 1960, the Walk of Fame has proved a perennial draw to tourists eager to see the stars. An estimated 10 million visitors come each year to the 18-block stretch.

The original plans called for 1,529 of the biggest stars of film, stage, radio, television and music to eventually be immortalized in the concrete using brass set in salmon-colored terrazzo stars surrounded by black backgrounds.

As of March 2010, there were more than 2,300 stars on the walk, representing 2,100 individuals or organizations.

The Walk of Fame was conceived in the 1950s by business leaders in Hollywood as a way to beautify the area’s historic core.

The groundbreaking ceremony on Feb. 8, 1960, featured actresses Linda Darnell and Gigi Perreau, as well as veteran actors Francis X. Bushman and Charles Coburn, using shovels to scoop up the dirt.

In addition, about 500 stars on the walk are currently blank, essentially acting as placeholders for future honorees.

Although the area near the famed intersection of Hollywood and Vine had been a central point for the fledgling movie industry before World War II, the area’s glamour had long since faded by the time producer Stanley Kramer’s star became the first actually set into the sidewalk on March 28, 1960.

Totals by star type
Stars are awarded in six categories.
Los Angeles Times

Seven types of stars can be found on the Walk of Fame.

The most common, by far, has been awarded for work in the field of motion pictures. Performers are also recognized for work in the fields of television, radio, live performance and recording.

Fifteen "special stars" have been awarded to events or companies, including the 1969 Apollo moon landing and news organizations such as the Los Angeles Times and Variety. There is even a star for well-known lingerie model Victoria’s Secret Angels, which was granted in 2007 to the well-known lingerie wearing models.

Gene Autry is the only person to be awarded stars in the five fields recognized on the Walk of Fame: film, TV, radio, live performance and music. During his lifetime, Autry emerged as both a top moneymaking entertainer and a powerful businessman. As his 1998 obituary said, "He was enormously successful at almost anything he tried -- radio, records, songwriting, television, real estate and business, as well as movies and museums."

The late Bob Hope and romantic crooner Tony Martin, who turned 96 on Dec. 25, 2009, are next with four stars each. Thirty-three people, including Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye and Jack Benny, have been awarded stars in three fields.

Only two women have three stars, Dinah Shore and Gale Storm, a radio and television star best known for the program "My Little Margie."

In addition, there are four special markers at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street to commemorate the Apollo landing in 1969.

The Times' Hollywood Star Walk virtual tour follows the actual order of the more than 2,400 terrazzo stars on the Walk of Fame, which stretches along Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. This order was created based on work by Times researchers to catalog the locations and generate points on a map for each. Each star was photographed.

The virtual tour is powered by an in-depth database -- created using more than a century of the archives of the Los Angeles Times. On the database pages, the locations of the terrazzo stars appear on a map as close as possible to their precise location. In addition, those maps may include other places meaningful in the star’s life.

-- Megan Garvey and Anthony Pesce

Photo: The Feb. 8, 1960, groundbreaking ceremony with, from left, L.A. County Supervisor Ernest Debs, E.M. Stuart, Gigi Perreau, Linda Darnell, Harry M. Sugarman, Francis X. Bushman and Charles Coburn. Credit: Times file

Hollywood Star Walk

A new Times database puts readers on the sidewalks of Hollywood, using more than a century of archives to track the lives of the stars, including current Oscar nominees Jeff Bridges, James Cameron, Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman, Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep.