It's Hollywood's very own version of the Yellow Brick Road.
Except this pavement — the legendary Walk of Fame (search) on Hollywood Boulevard — glitters with brass and pink terrazzo stars, not gold bricks, and leads not to Oz, but to publicity and permanence for the rich and famous.
"It’s buying immortality," said Anderson Jones, movie columnist for E! Online. "It's making them part of the Hollywood legend. It's making them part of history."
But becoming part of history isn't cheap. Those who want to be memorialized on the Walk have to pay $15,000 — or more accurately, a sponsor such as a movie studio or record company has to pay $15,000. The reward? An inevitable heap of TV and print coverage for the honored celebrity, who is often promoting a new film or album.
"They use the stars as a marketing tool," Jones said. "That happened in the last few years. You were getting a star tied to the release of an album or a movie."
That certainly was the case with Britney Spears, who got one last month as her "In the Zone" album was released; with Kevin Bacon who was awarded a star just as "Mystic River," in which he co-stars, hit theaters; and with Nicole Kidman earlier this year, whose star was timed to generate Oscar buzz for her role in "The Hours." (The publicity efforts paid off; Kidman won Best Actress.)
"I'm seriously speechless right now," Spears told the crowd of 2,000 at her Nov. 17 Walk of Fame ceremony. "This is something that I've dreamt about since I was a little girl. I can't believe I’m actually here with all of you amazing fans. Hello?"
Actress Joanne Woodward got the first star on the Walk in 1960. On Tuesday, head-banging rock star Alice Cooper received the 2,243rd.
As always, the honor was accompanied by a ceremony full of fans and flashing cameras sure to land the star's name and current work in the papers.
Walk of Fame director of publicity Ana Martinez-Holler said Cooper's new album wasn't the reason behind the timing of his star ceremony, since "The Eyes of Alice Cooper" came out earlier this fall. But on his official Web site, news of his Walk ceremony is featured prominently just above information about his album available "in stores now."
Aside from getting a sponsor and paying the $15,000 fee, would-be star recipients must submit an application to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce (search), which asks for little more than the nominee's name and list of accomplishments. A committee of five — headed by Hollywood's longtime "honorary mayor" Johnny Grant (search) — sifts through the 200-300 annual applications and chooses 20-24 of them to recognize, according to Martinez-Holler.
The $15,000, she said, goes toward the removal of the old, blank star, the installation of the new one with the entertainer's name, security, publicity and staging costs, with $5,000 set aside for maintenance and repair.
Regardless of how valuable a day's worth of publicity can be for a celebrity, the Walk is largely for star gazers.
"It's a tourist attraction," said Martinez-Holler. "Johnny Grant says that this is an award that celebrities can share with their fans."
In that vein, the Walk of Fame has become a shrine fans can visit when celebrities die or get into trouble. Since Michael Jackson was arrested for child molestation last month, his star has become a place for fans to leave flowers and notes in support.
"The stars are still magic for some people," Jones said. "They've become impromptu mourning places for fans."
There has been much ado about the oft-bewildering list of those with Walk of Fame stars versus those without. Al Pacino, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Redford and Jane Fonda don't have stars, for instance, but the Osmonds, David Spade, Pee Wee Herman, Pat Sajak and Leeza Gibbons do.
But some celebrities aren't interested in getting one. Julia Roberts, for instance, is said not to want her own star, according to Martinez-Holler.
"We cannot pursue them," Martinez-Holler said. "They have to be nominated."
Still, the Chamber of Commerce Walk of Fame committee ultimately chooses who is worthy of a star. And there are times when it seems members dole one out to someone "they forgot all about," according to Jones.
That might explain why names like Cindy Williams (who played Shirley on the 1970s TV sitcom "Laverne and Shirley"), the 1980s band Journey and seasoned singer Nancy Sinatra are on the 2004 list of stars to be added to the Walk of Fame, according to www.seeing-stars.com.
But no matter when Hollywood stars get their Walk of Fame stars, any publicity is good publicity, right?
"You get people to stop, you churn up traffic," Jones said. "Hollywood used to be run by writers, directors and creators. Now Hollywood is run by the marketing department."