WHEN it comes to raw power (the lasting kind), few people in this entertainment capital wield as much as Ana Martinez. She is not a movie mogul, making or breaking fortunes with sideways glances. She’s not an A-list actress strutting red carpets and commanding billion-fan-armies on Twitter.
Ms. Martinez decides where stars are placed on the Walk of Fame.
“I’m the one publicists and agents are either very nice to or very upset with,” she said in her matter-of-fact tone. “And I’ve been called every name in the book. People can get pretty threatening when they don’t get their way.”
A word to the wise: Don’t mess with Ms. Martinez. Employed by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, she has reigned over the world’s most famous sidewalk for 25 years, placing more than 600 pink terrazzo stars, and takes her job very seriously.
“I have had to adopt a certain persona,” she said, demonstrating a scowl that could stop traffic. “But I’m actually quite nice.”
Stars in cement: it’s pretty silly when you think about it. We’re going to honor you by letting people step on you?
But the Hollywood Walk of Fame, started in 1958 and now embedded with 2,484 stars, is big business. The chamber estimates that about 10 million people visit the 15-block stretch of Hollywood Boulevard (and three blocks on Vine Street) each year, making it one of the top tourist attractions on the West Coast. Licensing for related souvenirs generates about $ 500,000 annually, according to licensing experts.
The stars themselves cost $ 30,000, an increase from $ 25,000 three years ago, which covers their installation and raises money for the chamber and Hollywood Historic Trust. About 300 applications for stars are made each spring, according to Ms. Martinez, and a five-person committee picks up to 24 honorees for the following year.
As publicity stunts go, the Walk of Fame is still a drool-worthy opportunity. When Javier Bardem was awarded his star earlier this month, the ceremony generated a burst of global attention for “Skyfall,” the new James Bond film in which Mr. Bardem plays the villain. It was covered by 19 television crews and more than a dozen reporters and photographers, each carefully credentialed and told precisely where to stand by Ms. Martinez, who wore a star brooch on her black pantsuit.
“We hereby declare this Javier Bardem Day in Hollywood!” Leron Gubler, president and chief executive of the chamber of commerce, shouted into a microphone mounted on a little Plexiglas lectern. Mr. Bardem, looking equal parts grateful and mortified, thanked “everyone who took a chance on me” and then posed for photographs with the “Skyfall” Bond girls.
Ever since the 2008 death of Johnny Grant, who was Hollywood’s honorary mayor for 28 years and the Walk of Fame’s public face, Mr. Gubler has done his best to play M.C. at the unveilings. But he is the first to admit that he lacks a certain pizazz. While chatty and genial, he is as unflashy as they come: the type of aw-shucks guy you might expect to pop up in the cornfield on “Hee Haw.”
That may explain why the more colorful Ms. Martinez has also risen to prominence. She even writes a Q. and A. column on the Walk of Fame Web site called “Ask Star Girl.” Sample question: “I hear that there are celebrities buried under their stars. Is that true?” Answer: “If people were buried under their stars, which, by the way, measure 3×3, they would have to be standing up!! We would never consider having our deceased celebrities walked on.”
Ms. Martinez, who would not reveal her age, has lately had her Walk of Fame hands particularly full. In September, after years of delays, the chamber and Hollywood Historic Trust started an ambitious restoration project estimated to cost at least $ 4 million. Since it is only half paid for, Ms. Martinez is under pressure to help raise money through the Friends of the Hollywood Walk of Fame program she administers.
The inlaid sidewalk is a hassle to maintain on a good day. Ficus trees upend the 300-pound star “pads” with their roots. People occasionally scrawl obscenities on stars they don’t like. In 2005, vandals used a concrete saw to steal Gregory Peck altogether. And don’t get Ms. Martinez started on the wads of gum or the urinating dogs (or people).
But the subway rumbling underneath the street probably causes the most damage, Ms. Martinez said. After years of deliberation on what to do, including testing sidewalk sealants and consulting with a Florida terrazzo expert, restoration work finally began this fall. (The solution involves thicker cement underneath the terrazzo.)
When it comes to placing stars, Ms. Martinez, a mother of two who started as a receptionist, tries to accommodate requests.
“But I absolutely do not let them pick out the space themselves,” she said.
How does she decide? Plots with in-jokes are a particular favorite. She gave Farrah Fawcett a spot in front of a hair salon, for instance. Carol Burnett’s star was positioned in front of the theater where she was fired as an usher early in her career.
Ms. Martinez said she tried to group families together; Mr. Bardem’s star is next to the one honoring his wife, Penélope Cruz.
The busy sidewalks in front of the Roosevelt Hotel and the Chinese theater represent Ms. Martinez’s oceanfront real estate, but she will not reveal the names of people who threw a fit when they landed in more-remote spots.
“More often, people will say, ‘Can you not put me in front of a tattoo parlor,’ ” she said. In decades past, when the boulevard was much seedier than it is today, that was not an easy demand to accommodate.
The real pressure, Ms. Martinez said, comes from the public.
“People sometimes have very strong feelings about whether a celebrity is worthy of a star,” she said.
Britney Spears, who joined the Walk of Fame in 2003, was polarizing. “Ten Celebrities Who Deserve the Walk of Fame More Than Tinkerbell,” is how UPI.com covered that character’s induction in 2010, naming the starless Julia Roberts as one.
Ms. Roberts, who famously worked Hollywood Boulevard as a hooker in “Pretty Woman,” has been nominated for a star in the past but declined to accept. Should Ms. Roberts change her mind, Ms. Martinez has a spot saved near Frederick’s of Hollywood.
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