Character building on Hollywood Boulevard
Costumed characters stand in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater to entertain the tourists (AFP/Getty Images)
Hollywood is full of wannabes. The nearest most of them will get to fame is Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame, dressed as Superman or Wonder Woman. The characters are a big tourist attraction and are now the subject of a documentary. David Willis went to meet some of them.
August 1, 2008
Superman stubbed out a cigarette and started searching for his keys. Adjusting his blood-red cape, he flashed a final glance at a web camera pointed at Hollywood Boulevard.
It was a hot summer’s day and tourists were spilling out of gaily painted buses and flooding the strip.
The superhero descended from his one-bedroomed apartment two stairs at a time, stopping briefly to banter with his Mexican neighbours before striding for the boulevard a block away.
Christopher Dennis was once an unemployed actor working at a hamburger joint across the street.
After several diners told him he looked like Christopher Reeve, he made himself a Superman costume and spent a day posing for pictures on the Walk of Fame.
That was 17 years ago. He earned $600 in tips that day alone and has not worked as a waiter since.
It was not long before Superman was joined by Elvis Presley and Charlie Chaplin, and nearly two decades later, the community that Chris founded has mushroomed to more than 80 characters. (click on ‘Continue Reading’ for more)
Batmen by the busload
“It’s not like it used to be,” he lamented, running the gauntlet of a squealing group of school kids, some of whom approached for a high-five: “There’s a lot of animosity.”
As word has spread of how lucrative the business has become, one of the most famous streets in the world is now a mecca for out-of-work actors.
Chris says at one point there were 16 Spider-Men (at least one of whom was homeless and living in his car) and Batmen arriving by the busload.
And as competition among this anarchic mix of comic characters has grown increasingly cutthroat, so too has the rivalry and resentment.
The boulevard has seen fist fights and a series of arrests for aggressive pan-handling. Not long ago the police carted away a belligerent Batman after he picked arguments with several tourists who did not tip him.
The caped crusader was charged with disorderly conduct and banned from the boulevard (news of which generated headlines such as “holy handcuffs Robin!”) only to attempt a surreptitious return as Minnie Mouse. This promptly resulted in his re-arrest.
Following their dreams
There have been numerous calls to regulate the look-alikes, but so far nothing has come of them.
The one thing the members of this motley group share in common is the dream of making it in the movies, ideally playing themselves rather than somebody else.
Yet with people like Chris it is difficult to know where the Man of Steel ends and he begins.
As the door opened to his cramped apartment, I took a step back in amazement. The place was a shrine to Superman, with display cases stuffed with mementos and figurines, comics and props used in the films.
Costumes hung from the ceiling along with a wig once worn by Marlon Brando – so much krypton-crazy paraphernalia it was difficult to find anywhere to sit down.
Chris himself is a dead-ringer for Christopher Reeve – down to the square jaw, steely stare and cowlick – but he harbours the ambition of making it as a leading man even though he currently does not have an agent.
He told me he grew up a troubled kid starved of attention whose only escape was to dream. He is a kid at heart he admitted, a dreamer still in a land of dreams.
Only in America
Back on the boulevard, Chris posed for pictures – as if airborne – one fist in the air.
The tourists crowded around, giggling, taking pictures, thrusting dollar bills which he stuffed down the front of his tights.
Later, near the steps to the Kodak Theatre (where the Oscars are held) Chris introduced me to a man in a Muppet suit.
Donn – another out of work actor – is dressed as Elmo, a red monster from the children’s TV show Sesame Street.
Through the black mesh which formed Elmo’s mouth Donn wheezed and then told me how hot he was.
Yet any suggestion that dressing up in felt and fur carpeting – or for that matter a cape and tights – was somewhat unbecoming for a classically trained actor was met with a firm reminder that “this is America, the land of opportunity, a place where anything can happen and frequently does”.
Meanwhile Elvis and Charlie Chaplin (the original look-alikes that is) have since moved to paying gigs in Las Vegas and Palm Springs respectively, leaving Chris alone among the anarchic cast of comic characters that he helped inspire.
Now 41 years of age, he says he has no fear of being type-cast: “Talent will out,” he told me. “If you stay true to your dream of making it, it will happen.”
As he turned to leave, a Dutch tourist approached gingerly and asked to be held in his arms for a picture. The shutter clicked, the dollar bills changed hands and Superman headed for home.
The end of another day, living the dream on Planet Earth.