Heroes on the Boulevard

Photos by Peter Fletcher

Look! On the sidewalk! It’s a bird! It’s a stain! It’s Superman! It’s really an actor — possibly one of the hardest-working actors in Hollywood. His name is Christopher Dennis, but to the masses of those visiting Hollywood Boulevard he is the Man of Steel. Dennis not only looks like Superman, he looks like the man who played Superman, Christopher Reeves.

As far back as the ’20s, wannabe actors and actresses would put on getups and come to the Boulevard, hoping a producer would drive by and put them to work. That’s what first motivated Dennis to become Superman — that and the fact that friends in the business kept telling the naturally blond actor that he resembled Reeves. When he dyed his hair black, he was shocked at the results.

“I donned the tights, came down here and made a lot of money,” Dennis says, “so I decided I could come here every day.” That was nearly seven years ago.

Clooney or Batman?

Dennis says that he considers his Superman work a side job or, as he puts it, “my waiter job.” But enter his apartment, and you’ll find a shrine to the comic book hero; the place is literally a wall-to-wall tribute to his personal mentor. “I met him once,” says Dennis, showing off a picture of him and Reeves together. He’s also considering opening a Superman museum.

Of course, Dennis isn’t the only superhero on the Boulevard. Batman Maxwell Allen was George Clooney’s stand-in for the movie Batman Forever and Dr. Douglass Ross on television’s slow-death drama ER. Maxwell claims he looks just like Clooney, but it’s hard to tell while he’s wearing his Bat cowl. Who cares? It’s much cooler to look like Batman.

Harry Kallet from Syracuse, New York, portrays Batman’s faithful Boy Wonder, Robin. He used to be Spider-Man, but since getting his SAG card he thought he would be better off with something that showed his face more. Kallet was the youngest person to try going over Niagara Falls in a barrel (the attempt failed and he was fined $6,000 for his efforts), and he was also a boxer called Kid Niagara. He started out in show business as a stuntman but was hurt, so he decided to do something a little more fun.

“Step off,” says Captain America

Las Vegas native Tony Tomie, a.k.a. Captain America, takes the MTA to Hollywood Boulevard every day, and changes into his superhero costume in the back room of a local convenience store. “When the MTA went on strike,” Tomie says, “I couldn’t get to work.” He chose Captain America because of the war in Iraq: “I wanted something patriotic and something old. Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the 1940s as a newspaper comic and then moved on to Marvel comics.” The first Marvel issue depicts the good captain punching the snot out of Adolf Hitler. Nobody has tried mugging Tomie’s Captain America, but he

has had a couple of guys try to pick a fight with him.

He just tells them to “step off.” That is good advice, because the captain looks like an ass-kicker for real.

In fact, you could say that Captain America and the other caped crusaders of Hollywood Boulevard have taken on some of the responsibilities of their roles — all are members of Hollywood’s Guardian Angels.

For the last three years, an actress who says her real moniker is simply “Dana” has played Wonder Woman. Dana’s mother dressed her as the character for Halloween when she was a little girl. She’s been enchanted ever since. After wearing the costume for West Hollywood’s gay-pride parade one year, she decided she needed to keep Wonder Woman alive. Nowadays, she suits up at home and flies her invisible airplane to her spot in front of the Chinese Theater. She says she has never been pinched, groped or harassed. “Guys respect Wonder Woman; they may flirt a bit, and I’ve had a handful of marriage proposals, but there is a certain respect.” Dana does her superhero job for fun and “lipstick money.” She also works as a psychic when she’s not fighting the forces of evil that lurk in the cracks and crevasses of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Holy superheroes! If Superman’s with us, who’s that?

The Incredible Hulk, Joe McQueen, describes himself as an “urban Bill Bixby.” “I’ve always identified with David Banner,” says McQueen of the Hulk’s alter ego (though in the comic book, Banner’s first name is Bruce). “He’s a hard-working person struggling, just looking for a place to rest.” McQueen studies acting and is proud to have been the sixth person to die on ER’s first season.

These actors are not booked by an agency and are paid solely by gratuities from tourists. They work eight or more hours a day, and there is no Kraft Services trailer providing an Atkins-friendly snack when they get hungry — it takes a lot of energy to portray these larger-than-life heroes and stay in character. They consider themselves ambassadors of Hollywood and are not above telling you where to find the best hot dog (try the Home Depot on Sunset and Western) or where to find a Slayer poster or a Mötley Crüe T-shirt. When tourists come to Hollywood, they want to see stars and people who are active in show biz. That’s when they meet our sidewalk superheroes. Little kids think they’re the real McCoy. And in a way, they are.

—Peter Fletcher

You Can Leave Your Hat On

Larry U. went from a 425-pound tub of guts racked by anxiety attacks to a trim 200-pound nude male model. And he has kept the weight off for nearly a quarter-century.

No scalpel has ever touched his flesh, no staple has ever pierced his digestive tract, no vacuum tube has been shoved under his skin to suck out the fat. Now 50, Larry U. credits his weight loss and maintenance to a clothing-optional Overeaters Anonymous meeting that is, sadly, dwindling in attendance and looking for a new home.

“When I first heard about this, I thought, ‘What kind of weirdoes are these?’” says Larry, a Ventura resident who is co-secretary of the 12-step meeting that has taken place in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. “I sit in some OA meetings and I think, ‘I’m uncomfortable sitting here with clothes on; how am I going to take them off in front of other people?’

“But [at] the clothing-optional meeting there’s nothing hidden, nothing left to make fun of. I’ve bared my body before other OA-ers, and they’ve accepted me. People know exactly what you look like, and they accept you anyway. What a feeling.”

The meeting’s roots trace back to Elysium Fields, the institute that now-deceased fashion photographer and nudism advocate Ed Lange fought to establish in Topanga Canyon. For years, 20 to 25 nudists would gather every Thursday night at Elysium for an official Overeaters Anonymous meeting.

“We had a room for the meeting, we had meditation rooms, reading rooms, the entire place was heaven,” says Bob R., 62, a West Hills contractor and the meeting’s co-secretary, who dropped 50 pounds, kept it off and is comfortable with his 275 pounds. “It allowed us to take the cover off the book, and when you do that, you’re dealing with the real you, no B.S. We’re just human beings, all shapes, all sizes. If I have to wear a bathing suit someplace, I’ll wear a Speedo; I don’t care.”

But after Lange’s death in 1995, the Topanga Canyon site was sold. Former directors bought a new location in Malibu and held gatherings there; the meeting followed. Last year, though, the property was sold again, and the meeting organizers are again looking for someplace to hang their shingle — and their clothes.

—Michael Gougis