Forget following the paparazzi, sneaking behind the velvet rope, following the fashionistas or hanging around the hippest bar: there's only one guaranteed way to see the biggest stars in Hollywood - over 2,400 of them - and that's to take a stroll on the legendary Walk of Fame.
Every year more than 10 million people take the 2 ½ mile journey along Hollywood Boulevard, and this year the Walk of Fame is celebrating its 50th Anniversary by paying tribute to the famous and fabulous from movies, television, theatre, radio and music.
Celebrations started earlier this year on the official anniversary date, February 8, with the rare night time unveiling of a star for a Starr - Ringo from The Beatles - near George Harrison's on Vine Street in front of Capitol Records. John Lennon's star was moved there recently too, and the plan is that Paul's star will join them to make up the Fab Four.
The original idea for the Walk of Fame came from local property owners who wanted some "glamour and excitement", though many at the time thought it was a cheesy gimmick. Little did they know that half a century later it would be the #1 attraction in Hollywood and one of the biggest in Los Angeles.
Caricatures and other color designs were rejected until eight "test" stars were laid at Hollywood and Highland - the "first" being that of actress Joan Woodward. It was such a success that members of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce celebrated the unveiling of the first "official star" - that of producer Stanley Kramer - at Hollywood and Gower in 1960.
Today, Ana Martinez is the public relations wizard at the Chamber of Commerce (her Twitter account is even called @wofstargirl), and after initially starting out as a page at CBS she moved to the Chamber of Commerce as receptionist. Six months later she became their publicist, and the rest is history:
"People are amazed at the type of job I have, as it is the only one in existence!"
Ana's been keeping the Walk of Fame in the public eye for nearly 25 years, but the questions she is asked have remained the same:
"What is your favorite star, why doesn't so-and-so have a star, why does so-and-so have a star? It's constant! But we never bend the rules. One time, Johnny Grant, Chairman of the Walk of Fame committee was offered a car - but of course he said no!"
Though the June meeting to decide just who will be receiving stars the next year is super-secret, it's no long, jury room session of arguments, empty pizza boxes and coffee cups:
"More like cupcakes my 8 year old made, coffee and soda! Sometimes there is a good raucous discussion, but never anything heated. This is the public's award as well as that of the celebrity, something the fans can share with their favorite celebrity. They can see the ceremony, touch the star and at times lay right next to it while having a photo taken!"
There are few mysteries about the Walk of Fame, and their website even explains how people can be nominated for a star. They receive around 200 nominations a year, and as long as you have the written support of the celebrity and his/her management (and $25,000 to spare for the cost of installation) your favorite celebrity could be in the running for Tinsel Town immortality.
Around 20 or so stars are awarded each year, including posthumous ones. At the July "Walk The Walk" celebration for the 50th Anniversary, the late big band leader Louis Prima was honored, and there was a performance by Louis Prima Jr and The Witnesses.
The day-long event showcased the five categories of stars - live theatre, motion picture, television, recording and radio - and thousands lined up to enjoy music, screenings, exhibits and a look behind-the-scenes at the Hollywood & Highland Center, Egyptian Theatre, Capitol Records, Hollywood History Museum, the TV Guide Studios and the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre.
One of the most popular events was a rare "open house" tour at the distinctive, circular Capitol Records building. Visitors could take a peek into Studio A, which had equipment used by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and gaze at the walls lined with memorabilia, photos and gold and platinum albums.
Stars aren't just for human beings either; Lassie, Strongheart, Rin Tin Tin, Woody Woodpecker, Winnie the Pooh, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Kermit the Frog, Big Bird and a famous mouse named Mickey have all made it, so it's a surprise when you learn that around 40 stars are still waiting to be installed. The time limit is five years, so perhaps they're waiting for their new movie, their big comeback or even their last shot.
As for installing the actual stars in the sidewalk, you might be surprised to learn that they don't come in a ready-made paving slab. The actual "star-making" has always been a family business, and Travis is the grandson of Italian-American Biaggio Paternostro, who laid the very first star.
Discover Hollywood joined him at a recent installation, where he explained that earlier that morning he'd welded the brass alloy star and name. After getting to grips with a jackhammer and destroying the selected square of sidewalk, he adds a layer of cement and sand before the star, name and emblem are placed on top:
"I always take care of the stars myself - I like to keep up the three-generation family tradition. Normally I work in the office!"
The eye-catching pink terrazzo (Italian for "terrace") is made of "aggregates" like marble, coral, shells or glass (they're the flecks in the slab) and then blended with either cement or epoxy as a binder. This allows the terrazzo to be customized and finished on site, and better still, it's around 70% recycled materials.
Now the star is buried under a big glob of terrazzo, so it's time for the grinding machine (diamond, rough, fine and polish) and a final sealing. The latest star is now ready for its big close- up, and though the stars deliberately face different ways so there aren't huge jams on the sidewalk, Travis doesn't mind that millions step all over his work.
November will see a Grand Gala at Hollywood and Highland, and Ana promises a spectacular, one-of-a kind event to celebrate this world famous landmark:
"We're inviting all the living Walk of Famers to celebrate with us!"
There's also an Official Hollywood Walk of Fame iPhone application; it has news and information about the Walk of Fame, upcoming ceremonies and a search facility so you can find your favorite - and get directions to it as well.
You can search for your favorite stars at www.hollywoodchamber.net/icons/walk_directory.asp or on the iPhone application ($1.99 at the iTunes store). DH