Life on Hollywood Boulevard
Living, loving, laughing in the heart of Hollywood
12/18/2008 04:13:55 PM PST
See the Multimedia presentation: The Real Hollywood Stars
(HANS GUTKNECHT / DAILY NEWS)
BY BRENT HOPKINS >STAFF WRITER
PHOTOS BY HANS GUTKNECHT LA Daily News
Long after the red carpet rolls back up and the klieg lights shut off, John Peterson will continue his long, slow drag down Hollywood Boulevard.
Right hand: a rag. Left hand: a bottle of brass cleaner. He leans over, polishes Vincent Price's name and star until the pavement shines like an old-time photographer's flashbulb. Then Peterson gathers his crutches and bag of rags and pulls himself to the next Hollywood memory, his crushed and bent legs trailing behind.
"Have a happy star today, have a happy star," he sings, wiping away the grime of tourists' footsteps. "This is the land of has-beens and last chances."
But that's not it, not the half of it. When the cameras focus on the Kodak Theatre for the Academy Awards tonight, viewers won't see Peterson, who has made his living for the past eight years cleaning 80 to 120 stars a day. Nor will they see June Kim, who sells burgers and hands out teriyaki bowls to the area's drunks. No hint of Bogus and Shadow, the ex-cons who mess around on the street corner down by Cahuenga Boulevard.
They're the ones who make Hollywood Boulevard their home, who live in its richness and grit. The real ones. The high-heeled clubgoers, costumed characters, tattoo artists, punks and beautiful people.
'We like to call it Hollyweird'
Pete 'The Flash' Hoeninghausen, 35, costumed character
Pete came from Detroit, got a job as a camera operator and now freelances, but he spends more time working the boulevard dressed in a homemade red speedster suit. In his red, fuzzy gloves, he keeps the dollars people slip him in tip money for posing for pictures.
"We like to call it Hollyweird," Pete says. "Where else in the world can you see so many characters - both kinds? What you see on TV, that ain't the real thing.
"I always looked up to The Flash. I came out here one day and I was talking to Batman. He told me: `Greet people, be nice. Treat people like you'd like them to treat you."'
He pauses to pose with The Hulk, who yells "Incredible!" as a Panamanian kid smiles for his dad's snapshot. The kid is totally stoked.
"That makes our day when they shake our hands. It's not so much being a superhero. It's just being a nice person.
"I've met famous rock stars. The Hulk met Sheryl Crow. You never know who you're gonna see. It's a crazy place, man."
'You can get discovered out here'
Mike `Shadow' Tillman, 32, unemployed former gang member
Shadow is a big guy, sporting a marijuana-leaf track suit and a goatee interrupted by a silver spike through his chin. He hangs around with guys named Bogus and Kaneada, kicking it close to Cahuenga Boulevard and chatting with the pretty ladies walking by.
"I've been hanging out here ever since I was 15. I'm from 18th Street Westside. I got caught up when I was older and went to jail. I can't get a job, but I've been trying for the last 10 months since I got out. I got a baby on the way, and I don't have no foundation. Why is it so hard to get a job? We're in America, born and raised."
He dreams of opening a computer repair shop or a clothing store, maybe a barbecue joint. He's been looking for work as an electrician and says he doesn't bang anymore. As he rhapsodizes, Bogus, who's also recently out of prison, unzips his jeans and relieves himself, first on a store window and then on a Metro bus.
"Hollywood is the middle of the melting pot of Los Angeles," Shadow says. "Anyone who's anyone is right here. I see stars every day. ... Stars, musicians, rappers - you can get discovered out here if you really have something going on. And that's all there is, and that's that."
'Hulk Hogan wasn't doing so good'
Gary Downe, 52, Gene Simmons impersonator
The man with the Kabuki rock 'n' roll makeup and the black topknot spends his days working in a flower shop. On the weekends, he kits up as the bass player for the "hottest band in the world," drives up from Fullerton and puts on a show with his pal, Catman.
He tried making money pretending to be Hulk Hogan for three months, but that was a bust.
"Hulk Hogan wasn't doing so good, and I was making a KISS costume for Halloween, so I figured I'd give it a try. I made 100 bucks the first day and thought I'd keep it. I've been here three years now."
Though working with Catman gets him the most attention - they're also forming a band - the faux-Simmons has learned you can make some good dough pairing with incongruous partners. Charlie Chaplin is good - people like the mix of the Little Tramp and the God of Thunder.
"You get a good-looking Marilyn Monroe," Catman muses, "then the money starts pouring in."
'Most of the time, people want to gawk at you'
The Rev. Kyle NFC (No Fat Chicks), 21, punk minister
The reverend's mohawk spreads out like a rooster's cockscomb, getting him second looks and money for food every now and then. He got ordained so he could perform marriages and for the title, thought it would be funny. He's originally from Redding and came down to the boulevard because there's just not much for a punk to do in a small town.
"Most of the time, people want to gawk at you. If they want to give me a buck or two, that's cool, I'll pose. I'll tell 'em, `I'm hungry,' and they don't give a (damn), but if I put the mohawk up, they'll throw me a couple bucks and it's cool."
Currently staying with friends, he takes a dim view of his adopted neighborhood. Everyone is always putting on a show, trying to get noticed. A few weeks ago, he saw some punks with pink hair, threw 'em the traditional "oi!" greeting, and they didn't even turn around, the poseurs.
"Everyone here's (a jerk) or an actor. There's people out here who say they're here for different stuff, but it's just for the connections. I'm sorry, among 5million people, you're not going to get noticed, man."
'I like Hollywood. Everyone's my friend'
June Kim, cook
She came 12 years ago to Sandy Burger, a little stand tucked into the side of the Vine Theatre. She has a space next to Sir Laurence Olivier's star and passes the time in between teriyaki bowls and cheeseburgers reading Korean newspapers.
"I like Hollywood. Everyone's my friend. Black, white, Hispanic, Armenian, Asian. We all get along. Everyone. I like the people; they're nice to me. Some are strange, crazy, drunk, homeless - but they're all my friends."
'Ain't no gold up here'
Dr. Rev. Mr. Michael Love, 58, homeless
His hat says "producer," and he claims to have famous friends. He doesn't mind dining on trash, and he likes to talk. Small, excitable, verbose, he says he used to run with gangs but now wants to find more celebrity companions.
"When I'm not working, I sleep in the street. I was in McDonald's the other day, and Clint Eastwood gave me two dollars. Right here, these two dollars. I live in these streets, and I have people ask me for my autograph.
"Hollywood is where the bums live at. Ain't no gold up here. This is where the crackheads live. The dope dealers. The transvestites. The drag queens."
'You see all kinds'
John Peterson, 58, star cleaner
He talks to himself and sings as he scrubs away the residue of life from the stars. After he lost his leg in an accident, he relied on the bus to get around. Making his way down the street on crutches, he saw the faded emblems of Tinseltown's glory days. Their lack of shininess bothered him.
"You make your first impression on tourist visitors here. They come from all over the planet, so you can't have it too shabby. If they think it's shabby here, they think the whole country's bad."
Up and down each day, from Gower Street to Highland Boulevard, weighing in on politics, urban revival and geography. The crowds stream by as he scrubs the names and untarnishes them for another day.
"You see all kinds. You have some goofball trying to drop his pants on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, some guy trying to ask: `Where's Marilyn Monroe? Where's James Dean?"'
'Man, this place is crazy'
Andy Brodsky, 39, tattoo artist
In the seemingly endless string of tattoo shops, Brodsky stands out - an artist with a needle gun. He quit his day job 18 years ago and came to live among the drug dealers, gangsters and bums. Then the cops came in and cleaned things up, paving the way for the mega-upscale Hollywood & Highland Center.
"When that mall popped up, the celebrities came, and there's been crazy paparazzi. ... Shops are spreading like pimples on the face of a kid who hit puberty."
Twelve years ago, he opened Kayden Creations, a high-end tattoo shop and studio where his artists transfer their dreams onto flesh. Billy Joel music plays in the background as they ply their trade.
Now, clubgoers tread the same streets where he remembers looters descending during the Rodney King riots.
"I watched a guy in a wheelchair wheel up to the shop next to me and throw a rock through the window. He tried to reach in and get some stuff, but it was too far away. He kinda slouched down in defeat and rolled away. I was like, `Man, this place is crazy."'
'The biggest tip I got was $100'
Joe 'The Hulk' McQueen, 31, costumed character
Fourteen years ago, the man in the green suit and torn jeans sold his Super Nintendo and bought a bus ticket with the proceeds. He bid farewell to Pinehurst, N.C., and headed for what he thought was the promised land.
He was homeless for five years.
"My first character was Darth Maul from 'Star Wars,' but it didn't work out. I was getting the heckles. You know, 'You killed a Jedi knight,' stuff like that. So I was like, 'The Hulk's got to come out here."'
He put together a costume with green, bulging muscles, a roaring head and massive fists. It worked. He got an apartment and regular gigs. Now, he's a Screen Actors Guild member and enjoys the artistry of dressing up.
The homeless people who just throw on a mask and beg for dollars bring down the craft of the costume work. They give guys such as The Hulk and The Flash a bad name, he says.
"The biggest tip I got was $100, but it was by mistake. I got to my friendly neighborhood store, unrolled the money, and I was like, `Whooo, a Benjamin!'
"It's been a bumpy road for Joe Hulk, but I always bounce back. When you're out here, at least you're doing something positive."
Photo 1: Joe McQueen gets some curious looks in his Hulk costume as he walks along Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)
Photo 2: The Reverend Kyle NFC hangs out with friends along Hollywood Blvd. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)
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