TonHis news is full of horror stories about summer travel — canceled flights, missed connections, people putting bare feet on airplane handrails — but that hasn’t stopped tourists from heading to Los Angeles to see Hollywood up close.
It’s a familiar sight in Southern California. Tourists from all over the world walk around disappointed in the hot, dusty sun. They expect glamour and glitz, only to find that Hollywood is mostly a working town of drab beige stucco buildings.
Like everything else, LA looks better on TV.
On the main part of Hollywood Boulevard, in front of the Old Chinese Theater and the Hollywood & Highland mall, the street is packed with unemployed actors dressed as everyone’s favorite movie characters.
Costumes range from highly refined to well-worn homemade, but on any given weekday, there are plenty of Batman and Superman as well as Luke Skywalker. They’ll pose for pictures and perform famous movie moments — pretty much anything you like, within reason — all for just a few bucks.
A friend told me he used to be at Disney’s little mermaid Take a break next to the building together and share diet drinks and cheap lunches. It’s deeply disturbing to see a lighthearted Darth Vader fold a slice of pizza and slide it through the mouthpiece of his helmet while Ariel is vaping.
Apparently a few years ago, a costumed Donald Duck and a costumed Mickey Mouse, apparently both chasing the same tourist family and offering to pose for pictures, got involved in a brutal brawl.
Police were called and made arrests, but not before scores of traumatized children who never imagined Mickey and Donald would engage in such violence or, according to eyewitnesses, use such foul language .
In all fairness, the weather was very hot that day, and the young actor in heavy clothing must have suffered from heat stroke and was almost unconscious.
Big studios spend a lot of time and money trying to stop this from happening. These characters are a major part of their income expectations, and they guard their similarities and traits with paranoid intensity. They claim, on purely legal grounds, that the characters are the “intellectual property” of their respective companies — in Mickey’s case, corporate symbols — and so all these unauthorized pantomimes infringe their copyright.
It’s America circa 2022, and you won’t be shocked to learn that performers sometimes claim their “right to free speech” includes dressing up as Minnie Mouse for change. They are not infringing copyright. They “identified” as Princess Leia.
Still, some performers have made subtle but critical changes to their outfits in an effort to circumvent the law. Spider-Man is carefully cut and sewn to become “Spider King” or “Spider Boy” — same color scheme, same web pattern, but different enough to outshine the Sheriff.
The studio hates this. But to be fair, they are the ones who invented this barely legal copyright theft.
For years, when TV shows or movies portrayed characters using instantly recognizable products such as the Coke brand or some sort of smartphone, the props were disfigured or painted to disguise the specific brand name while maintaining the basic concept. “Coca-Cola” became “Cola-Time”, “McDonald’s” became “Arch Burger”.
Now, of course, they just use any brand’s offer to pay.
Luckily for the costumed street performers, visitors to Hollywood don’t want to see the perfect airbrush-and-massage version of their favorite character. They can see these anytime. What visitors to Hollywood want to see are the juicy backstage stuff, the insider’s perspective, the world behind the camera.
Romantic entanglements, fist fights, lawsuits, physical breakdowns. These are the perfect symbols of the entertainment industry. This is what happens all the time, behind studio doors and in changing rooms across the city.
Maybe see a bunch of grumpy actors running around in period costumes asking for money and willing to do anyis the perfect way to watch Hollywood.
Rob Long is a TV writer and producer and co-founder of Ricochet.com.