In a town of fakes and pretenders, a wax museum populated by celebrity mannequins might be the only way for today's tourist to encounter movie stars — when, 70 years ago, Hollywood visitors and locals could often encounter the real things in clubs, restaurants and drug stores. Today Madame Tussauds starts selling advance tickets to Hollywood Boulevard's newest attraction, which opens August 1 — a $55 million waxworks that has risen three floors from the ground up next to Grauman's Chinese, itself a famously faux-Oriental monument.

Tussauds is touting the fact that its stars are not aloof, roped-off statues, but the centerpieces of elaborate dioramas appearing in 18 “themed zones,” including one devoted to American Idol. The figures range from camp standards like Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich, to tabloid icons such as Britney, Brad and Angelina. And, for political scientists, Barack Obama will be on hand, although it's not known at this point if he'll be holding a cigarette.

There's been some questioning in the L.A. Times and elsewhere of whether the boulevard is big enough for two wax museums. (The nearby Hollywood Wax Museum,

which has just undergone a big renovation and plans to update its

exhibits, will be Tussauds' long-established competitor.) That won't

become apparent, however, until some time after Tussauds opens next week. The Web site

for the new kid on the block, in true Hollywood fashion, rates which

statues are hot with fans and which are not. Perhaps before long we'll

also find that out about the two wax museums.

LA Weekly