Guess who was awarded a Hollywood Walk of Fame star to celebrate the institution's 50th anniversary this week? Ringo Starr, that's who. See what they did there? "This is the start of the next 50 years of stars," Starr said outside the Capitol Records building at the ceremony on Monday. "I'm proud to be the first one." Conceptually, the Walk of Fame was born in 1953, when a Californian artist by the name of Oliver Weismuller was hired by Hollywood to try to lure tourists to the downtrodden neighbourhood. The Walk of Fame was one of the ideas that Weismuller sprang on them, using John Wayne's name for a prototype model. It wasn't until January 1960, however, that an actual star was doled out. The lucky recipient? Joanne Woodward, the actress and wife of Paul Newman.
Things snowballed from there, with almost 1,600 stars handed out in its first 16 months of existence. Each five-pointed star is made from bronze and inlaid in a pink and charcoal terrazzo square. The committee in charge established five categories of recognition: motion pictures, live theatre, radio, recording and television. Among them, there's just one person who has clocked up a star in each category: the singing cowboy Gene Autry.
It's hard nowadays to come up with a big Hollywood name who doesn't have an imprint in the area. There are around 2,500 stars, stretching for 18 blocks, although 400 remain blank for future use. Nominations (often put forward by fan clubs) are submitted annually, and a committee decision is made in June. Last year's names included Sir Ben Kingsley, Cameron Diaz, Shakira and Disney's Tinkerbell. Not actually existing is no impediment to having a star laid down in your name. Mickey Mouse was the first cartoon character to earn a star, in 1978.
But wait, there's a catch. It doesn't come free. Those deemed worthy of a pavement slab have to promise to attend the presentation ceremony and cough up some cash, a sum that currently stands at $25,000 (Dh92,000). In the past, refuseniks have come up with inventive ways of paying. In 1991, Liza Minnelli insisted she wouldn't pay the $5,000 for her star (or Dh18,400 as it was then), so her fans held bake sales and car washes to raise it themselves. Often, canny movie studios will pay for an actor or actress's star, timed to coincide with the release of a film they're in.
Hidden among the stars are some strange ones. Judge Judy became the first television judge (a niche category, one assumes) to be awarded a star in 2006. Three stars have been given to dogs - Strongheart, Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. Ronald Reagan is the only American president to have one. And in 2002, Muhammad Ali became the first recipient to have his star erected not on a pavement but on the wall of the Kodak Theatre, because the boxing champion said he didn't want to be walked on by those who disrespected him.
Others have refused the honour. Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page turned down the idea when a fan wrote to him with the suggestion in 2008. Whitney Houston said no in 1996, reportedly because she didn't want people walking over her name. They have been the target of thievery too. Four stars have been pinched, including one of Autry's, which disappeared during a spot of construction work, and Gregory Peck's, which was stolen in 2005. At the end of last year, alarm bells were raised when John Lennon's star appeared to have been pulled up. Thankfully, calm was later restored when it was revealed that Lennon was simply being moved closer to George Harrison's star, which lies alongside Ringo's new spot, too.
The walk is estimated to attract 10 million visitors annually, and by 2008 this meant a good deal of wear and tear from shuffling feet. The committee announced that 778 stars needed a spit and polish in a restoration plan that would cost $4.2 million (Dh15.4m), to be completed by this year's celebrations. Apart from Ringo's ceremony earlier this week, a day-long street festival will be held in July and a gala dinner in November, with invitations going out to all those whose names light up the walk now.