People are standing 10 deep in front of me, phone cameras raised high over their heads, when the cheering starts. Thats how I know Vin Diesel has arrived for the ceremony unveiling his new star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I cant see him until he steps up on a platform to speak, and then only the back of his shaved head is visible.
Diesels new star is in front of the Roosevelt Hotel, where the first Academy Awards were held in 1929. Across the street at Graumans Chinese Theatre, tourists are stepping in concrete handprints and footprints left by stars from Gloria Swanson to Britney Spears.
This stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, the heart of the Walk of Fame, is home to two celebrity-studded wax museums, the Dolby Theatre (formerly the Kodak Theatre) permanent home of the Academy Awards, the Hollywood Museum, several grand old movie theaters, and the Road to Hollywood, a winding trail with showbiz anecdotes set in mosaics that ends at an enormous casting couch.
Along these blocks, a celebration of stardom and entertainment, it is always tourist season. More than a dozen bus and van tours of Hollywood operate here, and every few feet bring a new opportunity for a cell-phone selfie.
Half a mile away is the star of Rudolph Valentino, the silent-film actor known as the Latin lover and one of the first sex symbols of the cinema. Few tourists wander to this end of the Walk of Fame, which is just east of the intersection of Hollywood and Vine.
Ive come to Hollywood on a Valentino quest, looking for memories of the Italian actor, who died 87 years ago, and of the Hollywood of yesteryear.
You could say I spent most of my teen years under Valentinos eyes. My generation of Lamberts attended Hollywood High School, whose mascot is the sheik. A mural of Valentino, in the headdress he wore in The Sheik, perhaps his best-known film, is painted on the rear of the school auditorium, overlooking the athletic fields.
Valentino was born in Italy in 1895 and came to the United States at 18. He ended up in Los Angeles, where he won a few bit parts in movies. His breakout role came in 1921 in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, made by Metro Pictures, forerunner of MGM. He made five movies that year, including The Sheik by Famous Players-Lasky, which would later become Paramount Pictures. When he died of a perforated ulcer in 1926 at 31, he had appeared in 40 movies. An open-coffin viewing in New York caused a near-riot; tens of thousands of fans lined the streets.
Now it is said that he haunts Hollywood. A website called creepyla.com lists more than a dozen places where sightings of his ghost have been reported, including Frank and Mussos Grill, Hollywoods oldest restaurant; the Roosevelt Hotel, where Diesels star is embedded; the Hollywood and Highland Center, on the site of the former Hollywood Hotel, where he had a suite; Paramount Studios; and at one time, his now-felled homes in Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
Hollywood High School is on Highland Avenue, a block south of Hollywood Boulevard. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and has its own tiny museum honoring the schools famous alumni, including Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Mickey Rooney and Carol Burnett. During the Lambert years, our classmates included John Ritter ( Threes Company), Rita Wilson ( Sleepless in Seattle), Diana Canova ( Soap) and Charlene Tilton ( Dallas).