This past Thursday I went up to Hollywood Blvd. to take a look at all the hoopla surrounding the famous street with the impending release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”.
It is probably the most highly anticipated movie in a decade or more and the initial box office reports show that it is well on the way to be the largest opening weekend in the history of cinema.
Hollywood Blvd. is always full of, well, energy (shall we say?) and I figured this would be the perfect time to head up to see what the buzz was like on the street.
I expected to see more Star Wars fans lined up, perhaps some dressed like characters, but that was not the case. There were some, to be sure, but honesty I expected more.
I saw the usual assortment of super hero characters working for tips (the “real” performers, according to Wolverine — not like the ones that photo bomb people and then hound them for money after the fact, he said pointing to two women within earshot), tourists from all over the globe, throngs of people lined up for Kimmel, a few blocks of the Blvd. blocked off and heavily patrolled by LA’s finest and the opening of the Leonard DiCaprio movie “The Revenant” happening later that evening, when the sun went down.
Bathed in the late afternoon winter’s light, there was a buzz on the street as folks gathered to see just who might show up for the premiere, many staking out spots by the steel gates opposite of the entry for the opening. Later there would be dozens more including photographers on ladders hoping to make a photograph of the stars arrivals.
Getting back to Star Wars, I really wanted to see the El Capitan and the area around here because Gruman’s Chinese Theater right across the street was the place that the original Star Wars debuted in 1977.
A Long Time Ago, in a galaxy far, far away….
I remember going to see that movie for the first time in the tiny theater in downtown Beaver Dam, WI, not expecting to like it despite the hype surrounding it. Being a long time Star Trek fan, I went into it convinced that there was obviously NO WAY that any movie could come close to that fine science fiction series from the 60s. Was I in for a surprise.
From the start with John Williams’ epic score, the scrolling titles vanishing into the distance and the opening visual with the Imperial Cruiser chasing the rebels from the top of the screen with Dolby surround sound kicking in, I was hooked. So much so that I went back the next night to see the movie again.
I loved the message, the characters, the tech and the story. Despite everything else, it was a story that was enthralling. The tech served the story, and not the other way around. I instantly became a fan of the movie and have seen all the subsequent movies, though nothing in the series IMHO ever matched the heart of that first movie.
One Degree of Separation
Another reason that I loved the movie was that it starred a relatively (then) unknown actor named Harrison Ford who would — through Star Wars and later through Raiders of the Lost Ark and other films — become probably the most bankable Hollywood leading man over the past 30 years.
Ford had attended tiny Ripon College back in the early 60s — the same college I was attending when those movies were coming into their own in the late 70s.
Ford and I have one degree of separation in the form of the Dean of Men from the College back then — David Harris.
I worked for the Dean as an office aide for my work-study grant and would talk with him about Ford, who was one of the most famous alumni from the school. (Ironically Harrison Ford, Grammy winning Jazz singer Al Jarreau and the late great ABC and CBS world correspondent & anchor Richard Threlkeld all attended Ripon at the same time and all were members of the same fraternity. Pretty astounding when you consider the school had an attendance figure of under 1000 students at the time).
I can still see the professorial Dean Harris with his horn-rimmed glasses, wearing a tweed jacket and leaning back with his high back leather chair, tapping his pipe and the sweet smell of the pipe creating a foggy glow.
Harry Ford wasn’t really acting, said the Dean as he tapped, and inhaled his pipe. That’s the way Harry Ford really is.
Dean Harris proceeded to tell me the legend of Harry Ford and how he found theater at the school and was devastated when Red Barn Theater on campus — the home of the school’s Drama department — was burned down in 1964
As I remember Dean Harris telling me, Ford was so distraught that he just stopped attending classes and failed to graduate that senior year.
He joined another famous Ripon College acting alum, Spencer Tracy, who attended but failed to graduate from the school.
The Dean was obviously proud of Ford for finding his calling while at his school and perhaps a bit for helping draw some attention to Ripon, a fine liberal arts college in a small town in the center of the state. It was inspiring to me that Ford was from Ripon and he excelled at his chosen profession, something that I too wanted.
Back to Hollywood Boulevard
Especially because of this somewhat personal connection I simply had to find Ford’s star on The Walk of Fame.
Before sunset, I had wandered around the Blvd. looking for the stars of any of the Star Wars cast, and didn’t have any luck, but was drawn to the stars on the sidewalk that were hit by interesting light (such as the Shrek star). I thought I read online that the Ford star was closer to Hollywood and Vine but I was wrong. Grabbing a quick bite with my friend Chuck Jones who ventured down to street shoot with me, I then did a better search online and discovered that Harrison Ford’s star was actually located near the corner of Hollywood and Highland — back where I had started. Somehow I had missed it.
By now it was dark and getting chilly and we walked the few blocks along Hollywood Blvd. Past the restaurants, souvenir shops, adult “toy” shops and a curiously high number of wig shops that dot that part of the Blvd.
Getting back to Hollywood and Highland, the area was now jammed with people on both sides of the street, eagerly craning to see which stars would appear for the Revenant premier. Me, I was craning my neck down, looking at the stars on the sidewalk on the hunt for Harry Ford’s star.
And I did find it, ironically (or not) placed directly across the street from the El Capitan Theater — where the new Star Wars premiere will also take place. I loved how his star basked in the glow from the theater’s neon marquee. Mission accomplished. Time to head back to suburban OC.
Now I begin planning when I will go see the movie and bring my two children, ages 10 (almost) and 6 (I think it will be okay). I think they’ll love it — I hope that they do. And I hope it fills them with inspiration and excitement for the future as it did for me when I first saw the movie back in 1977.
Technical Information: Sony a7R II, 35mm f1.4 FE Zeiss, 85mm f1.8 FE Zeiss Batis, 55mm f1.8 FE Zeiss, available light.