Issue: Issue Summer 2009

Superheroes, Villains, & Cartoon Characters...

The ultimate odd couple while in costume, they are among the men and  women who impersonate cartoon characters, superheroes, queens and  kings of the silver screen, villains and other fantasy beings. Their  “stage” is Hollywood Boulevard . They’re seeking to earn tips by entertaining  in costume and posing for pictures with people strolling on The Walk Of  Fame. 

The flamboyant characters are a brigade of unlikely “ambassadors” since  many of the people they encounter are tourists from throughout America   and countries worldwide. The impersonators give people an opportunity to  experience close up interludes with “celebrities” including Superman,  Batman, Wonder Woman, Elmo, Big Bird, Elvis, Cleopatra, Spiderman,  Tinker Bell and others. There reportedly are almost one hundred such  characters that ply their fantasy trade on the boulevard. The usual tip they  may be given is one dollar, but sometimes much more. 

The impersonators march to a different drummer when it comes to show  biz. But there are those who still seek their big break as actors and  comedians. They may or may not catch the brass ring the way movie goddess  Lana Turner did when she reportedly was discovered at Schwab’s Drug  Store. But, Hollywood Boulevard still is the fabled “street of dreams”. 

Conn Carl Harper is an actor who has been portraying the cartoon  character Elmo for about six years. “The joys of this job are working with the  children,” he said. His fondest memory on the boulevard is when he sang the  children’s song lyrics “If you’re happy and you know it…” to a red-haired boy  who was about five years old. He joked with the boy and hugged him. The  child’s face lit up with a smile. The boy’s mother told Conn that her son had  heart surgery just two weeks earlier. And this was the first time he smiled  since he got out of surgery. She gave Elmo a $100 tip. 

One of the women portraying Marilyn Monroe is Maaike Snoed  who is from Holland . She began her Marilyn impersonation on the  boulevard a year ago. Maaike even stands over a vent in a white  dress where a rush of air repeatedly blows her  skirt up as it did in a famous Monroe movie  scene. 

She fondly recalled the 90-year-old  woman in a wheelchair who came to  Hollywood from Asia. “She got out of her wheelchair and  walked toward me to make a picture with me,” Maaike said.

“The smile that I got on her face by giving her a hug and  snuggles and kisses was very amazing to see.  “It is a big honor to impersonate Marilyn, and the fact  that she is paying my bills, which is a crazy thing on its  own.” 

Christopher Lloyd Dennis portrays superman, and claims  the distinction of being the first costumed character on the  boulevard. Why did the actor transform himself into “the  man of steel? “I got tired of being a waiter at the Hamburger  Hamlet across the street,” he explained. People kept telling  him he looked like the actor Christopher Reeve who  portrayed Superman. He thought, “What would happen if I  donned the suit and went out on the Boulevard? My first  day I made $595. 

“We are like ambassadors out here,” he said. “If  they want to give us a little gratuity they can. But,  it’s not mandatory they do so.” 

Gregory Marzee is an actor, poet and songwriter  from Chicago who has been portraying Spiderman  for four years. It’s quite a switch from when he  portrayed a bunny on the boulevard. 

“I was out here during the Democratic  National Convention, and I had a sign that  said ‘Elect Spiderman For President’. A  lot of people said they’d rather vote  for me than Hillary, Barack or  McCain. 

“I’m the hardest working  character out here,” he claims. In order  to enhance his Spiderman persona he sometimes  hangs from scaffolding.  According to the book “Imposters”, which features  a wide array of photos of the Hollywood Boulevard   costume characters and their comments, “Everyone  who comes to Hollywood feels like they really could  be somebody. In the meantime, it might just pay  better to be somebody else.” Comments from the  book include: Michael A. Luce, who portrays the  pirate Jack Sparrow, said, “My priorities are to first make  rent at my motel, then to get a date to the movies. Lidia  Anfinogenova, from Krasnoyarisk, Russia , portrays Snow  White. She said, “I will act like I am made of wax and then  move when someone touches me.” Arlene Parness, who  portrays Lucille Ball, said, “The best part of the job is having  fun and making people laugh. She’s the most popular dead  actress. And I love the tips.” 

Civic and business leaders report that not all encounters  with the costume characters on the Boulevard include  happy endings. 

According to Kerry Morrison, Executive Director of The  Hollywood Property Owners Alliance, the vast majority of  the costumed characters on the boulevard “are whimsical  and fun. But, there’s a small group who kind of ruin it for  everybody because of the way they treat tourists.” She said  the most frequent complaints are that the some of the  characters are aggressive or intimidating if people don’t pay  them enough. 

The Office of Los  Angeles City Council  President Eric Garcetti  created the Hollywood  /Highland Sidewalk  Nuisance Task Force in  September 2008 to  develop a strategy for  combating nuisance issues  on the boulevard involving  the impersonators, CD  music and retail vendors  and others. “We are  looking to create an  ordinance to regulate  and license the  characters.” Garcetti  said, “We want to keep Hollywood an exciting place to  visit, but we also want to make it a safe place to visit.” 

He joked that it will be the only ordinance that  will apply to Superman and Batman. And he added,  “Yes, it will even apply to Marilyn Monroe”.  Garcetti confessed that if he were a  costume character he would be  Aquaman. He said “Aquaman was my  favorite superhero when I was  growing up.” 

City Attorney Will Rivera  believes the costumed characters  add to the excitement of Hollywood  Boulevard when what they do is well done.  There’s a line of demarcation for the  characters, he said. “ Highland to  Orange on the north side of  Hollywood Boulevard is  where you won’t be  charged with trespass if  you stay on the public right  of way there,” he said. “This is  the heart of the Hollywood  entertainment district.” 

Rivera didn’t hesitate for an  instant when asked who would  be the most likely character for  him to portray on the  boulevard. “Rambo,” he said  with a laugh.  Perhaps Superman  (Christopher Lloyd Dennis) put  it best when he proclaimed, “I say  just keep it clean and fun.”  The book “Imposters” includes  photographs and blurbs by James  Knoblauch, Commentary by  Shawna Kenney, and was published  by Mark Batty Publisher, NewYork City.