I’ve written many stories about the costumed characters that walk Hollywood Boulevard and ask tourists for tips. It’s a fun story, but the characters can get unruly. Here’s my latest on the situation, with photos by David Crane, NBC 4, and N.Y. Daily News: (Daily News, Sept. 7, 2015):
Holy conviction rate, Batman!
Not the tourists he tried to scare from behind a floor display inside the souvenir shop.
Not the manager of the shop, who he assaulted.
And certainly not the police, who arrested Jose Luis Garcia, 28, who was dressed as Batman’s nemesis.
Garcia was convicted recently of one count of intentional interference with a business establishment and sentenced to 10 days in jail. In addition, he has to stay a minimum of 100 yards away from the Hollywood Entertainment District. He also became among a dozen individuals who, dressed as popular movie characters, have been prosecuted by the Los Angeles City Attorney Office since 2013.
All were convicted of committing crimes in the Hollywood Entertainment District, according to a statement from Mike Feuer’s office released Friday.
“When I was running for city attorney I heard from community leaders that the behavior of some of the characters on Hollywood Boulevard was a real public safety issue,” Feuer said. “As this recent conviction illustrates, the problem has not vanished, but our message is clear — characters who break the law will be prosecuted.”
For years, Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe impersonators have worked alongside superheroes near Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, now TCL Chinese Theatre, to pose with tourists for photographs. But those innocent tributes to Tinseltown had evolved into an aggressive competition for tips and turf as more Chewbacas, Darth Vaders, Jack Sparrows and Freddy Kruegers moved in. The result was more fights and complaints. In 2010, the LAPD conducted a sweep on the boulevard and in a few days netted 13 arrests and citations.
Since then, the LAPD has kept up with the crackdowns with one goal: misrepresenting the spirit of Hollywood will not be tolerated, said Sgt. Ben Fernandes, who supervises a unit that enforces the law in the Hollywood Entertainment District.
“It has definitely calmed down,” Fernandes said. “The characters and street performers know we’re out there and we’re there to protect their freedom to be there.”
But the work is ongoing, Fernandes and others noted.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said he credits Feuer and the LAPD for keeping on top of the issue, one that he believes had been ignored by former City Attorney Carmen Trutanich.
“We are still working on creative solutions so that we can really discourage criminal behavior of some of the characters,” O’Farrell said. “But I think the message is out that the city is watching and that anyone puts on a mask or dresses as a character, unless they behave and act as an ambassador of Hollywood, we won’t tolerate them. Hollywood is a very special place, and we need to do all we can to enhance it and improve it and make sure people have a quality experience.”
Even in the sweltering Labor Day heat Monday, several men dressed as Spider-Man mingled and posed with tourists, who then gave the characters money.
Some of those who portray characters say that the tourists can get aggressive too.
“You can only take so much sometimes before you crack,” said Omar Budhoo, who has worked as a character for 10 years.
On Monday he donned a tight green costume and a giant rubber mask to portray a self-created alien zombie. He growled at tourists and held up a plastic machete.
Budhoo said women have punched him in the stomach, and little boys have kicked him in the groin. He said he tries to stay nice and doesn’t ask for money. But he does tell those who pose for photos with him that he accepts tips.
“There are characters out here that are bad people,” Budhoo agreed, “but the characters have to remember that they’re doing a service to the people who come to visit Hollywood.”
Actor Elliott Bunch said he has seen all types of people on Hollywood Boulevard. Bunch portrays Samuel L. Jackson’s role of Jules Winnfield from the film “Pulp Fiction” and said he does his best to stay in that character.
Even as temperatures reached the mid-90s in Hollywood, Bunch tried to remain cool “in a wool suit and jheri curl,” he said.
But it wasn’t easy. And it’s not always easy to work alongside characters with only one motivation, he added.
“The characters are part of the fiber of Hollywood,” he said. “But let’s face it, some are here simply for the money.”
Just a few steps away was an actor who would only give his name as Tim. He portrayed the Zach Galifianakis character of Alan Garner from “The Hangover” movies, complete with the sunglass-wearing baby in a snugli. Tim said the situation on the boulevard between characters and tourists is better, but he agreed tourists do get aggressive. One woman tried to yank off the sunglasses of the baby he carried. Another tourist from Australia tried to pull off the baby’s head.
“There are people who just act like thugs,” he said. “One of the Starline tour buses got robbed recently by a Spider-Man. With 18 or 19 Spider-Mans running around here, the police couldn’t tell who it was.”