For more than 50 years, the Hollywood Walk of Fame has been handing out stars to stars, from Joanne Woodward in 1960 -- she was the first to land one -- to Charlie Chaplin and Dennis Hopper and Bill Maher and Penelope Cruz. It's a time-honored tradition, makes for great photo opps, fits nicely into marketing and PR campaigns, and it's fun.
Everyone in Hollywood knows the backstory to the Walk of Fame, how the events are part of the Hollywood tourism industry and are paid for by the studios themselves to the tune of $30,000 per star now. The money covers sidewalk maintenance, the award event itself, media outreach and other things.
But while the film industry and the news media know that the stars on the Walk of Fame are part of a savvy PR enterprise, and not actual awards or honors themselves, news outlets from AP to Reuters to CNN and AFP continue to play along with the award events and cover the day's speeches as if it's a big honor. And the news photos that go out on the wire the next day, reprinted in thousands of newspapers and blogs and websites, make it appear as if Star X actually won a new award. Isn't it time to stop this hypocrisy on the part of the news media? Isn't it time for AP and Reuters and CNN to report the real back story behind the awarding of the stars each time the wire photos go worldwide, just as a truth-in-reporting service to readers and fans?
It sometimes seems as if the media keeps running photos of celebrities no matter what they do, even if what they do is not so newsworthy at all. When does this news charade stop, and when does better reporting begin?
From Russell Crowe to James Cameron, the honors keep coming and coming. Even producers can get a star now. One of these days you will see that some savvy PR maven gets a star, too. What's next? A star for best grip, best caterer, best location scout?
Yes, getting a star is a cool and fun tradition, but let's be honest with the American public (and overseas readers as well). Let's report what the Walk of Fame stars are really all about, who pays for the events and how they are arranged to coincide with new releases, memoirs or TV shows. And someone has to foot the $30,000 fee, too. Isn't it time for the news media and all media outlets, print and online, to at least print one brief sentence that characterizes the Walk of Fame events as PR and not as actual honors?
Any reporter or online editor could call Ana Martinez at the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, who for more than 20 years has been in charge of arranging the star ceremonies."
When I queried her about all this, she told me by email: "The stars are a special honor, and nominees are voted on in an annual meeting. Recipients at times do tie in the star dedication to projects they want to promote, and sometimes they are done at a time that is best for their schedule. Career anniversaries and birthdays as well."
When I recently asked a woman in Seattle if she was aware that the Walk of Fame awards were promotional events set up in advance to coincide with new film releases, she replied: "No, I didn't know that. I never heard of that before. I hesitate to believe you, as I remember the ‘good old days’ -- when stars really were stars -- and I shudder to think that all my ‘heroes’ and ‘heroines’ were paying upfront money to get ‘noticed’ on the Walk of Fame. But it makes sense that this has ‘morphed’ into a marketing operation. Still, as a lifelong movie fan, I find it hard to believe, that these events are PR events and paid for by the studios. I just don't want to believe it. I guess I'm just an eternal Polyanna, and I want to believe that Hollywood and the news media wouldn't pull the wool over our eyes this way."
Nashville copied the idea six years ago and now runs the Music City Walk of Fame there for country music stars. They also get a star, and the accommodating news media report the ''awards'' in the same way it reports the Hollywood Walk of Fame stars -- along with wire service photos that go worldwide on the very day the ceremonies are held.
I want to make it clear here that I love movies, and I love Hollywood, and I love the Walk of Fame there. What I am pointing out here is how the news media mis-reports and misinforms the public by reporting and photographing Walk of Fame ceremonies as if they were real honors and awards, when in fact they are all arranged way in advance as part of future marketing campaigns, and that the stars themselves ''pretend'' that are being given an ''award'' by the Walk of Fame committee of judges when in fact they know very well that the entire ''event'' -- and photo opp -- is merely a time-honored PR event.
So my beef here is not with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce or the studios, but with the American news media, which for some reason does not want to print the truth about the sidewalk stars. Are they afraid that if they don't go along with the PR, they won’t get scoops on the stars -- or access for interviews -- later on?
When I asked a top editor at the Associated Press in New York about all this, he told me: ''You’ve made an interesting point about how the media reports the Walk of Fame ceremonies. If your facts are correct, you’re exactly right that we should add that context [that the star ceremony is a publicity stunt]. I’ll pass along to our entertainment editor."
So should the media step up to the plate and report each Walk of Fame ceremony for what is really is, or should they continue pretending the events are newsworthy every two weeks of every month. Should the media keep fawning over our culture of celebrities, without any footnotes or caveats to readers? When does the hypocrisy on the part of the media end, and when will we stop running photos of movie stars even when events don't warrant it?
Ever notice that Clint Eastwood has steadfastly refused to take part in the Walk of Fame thing, despite dozens of entreaties to have his star there? Guess why? He values values.
Again, my beef here is not with Hollywood, or the stars that go along with the charade, or with the Walk of Fame itself. My beef is with the American news media. Would love to hear responses, pro and con.