Down Memory Lane

Another Star is Born: Nicole Kidman is the center of attention at her 2003 ceremony.

"I'm exhausted!"

So says Ana Martinez, who has overseen the Hollywood Walk of Fame for the city's Chamber of Commerce for nearly a quarter-century.

Who can blame her? When star No. 2,401 went to Ringo Starr in February, it launched a string of 50th anniversary celebrations, culminating with a black-tie gala Nov. 3 at Hollywood & Highland.

All 600 living celebrities whose names are stamped into the 2.5-mile Walk were invited, but that's small potatoes compared with the 10 million visitors who stroll down it annually.

Created by the Chamber of Commerce in 1953, historians believe it drew inspiration from the dining room ceiling of the old Hollywood Hotel, which was painted with stars and celebrity names. The concept quickly found favor, but there were hurdles to clear -- for one, the cost of creating the Walk: $1.25 million to be paid by city taxes. Localproperty owners sued, holding up construction for more than a year. Another delay came when Charlie Chaplin Jr. sued for $400,000, arguing that his father was wrongly excluded. Both cases eventually weredefeated, though Chaplin senior would receivea star in 1972.

In 1958, Olive Borden, Ronald Colman, Louise Fazenda, Preston Foster, Burt Lancaster, Edward Sedgwick, Ernest Torrence and Joanne Woodward were the first honorees.

They were chosen just as they are today: by a committee consisting of one member each from the motion picture, television, recording and radio industries.

The Walk drew buzz. But Hollywood Boulevard's declining economic fortunes eventually meant that celebrities had to pay for their own stars and the stars' upkeep. (The Chamber needs to raise $1 million more for a planned renovation.)

Today, the committee chooses 24 or 25 stars annually from an average of 200-300 applications. Studios and entertainment companies generally submit the applications and pay the $30,000 fee. Sometimes, a little extra money is needed to handle mistakes -- like when Julia Louis-Dreyfus' name was misspelled on the star created for her May ceremony.

The 300-pound terrazzo stars have value -- enough that Jimmy Stewart's and Kirk Douglas' were stolen when they were removed for a construction project. They were recovered from a drug dealer's backyard.

Alas, thieves who made off with Gregory Peck's star in 2005 haven't been caught.

"Make a police report," Martinez told honorary Hollywood Mayor Johnny Grant.

He had a savvier idea: "Tell the media!"