Our latest blog comes from stipend holder Patrick Ellis, who is Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Tampa in the Unites States. Patrick explores the world of Hollywood star maps across time.


“Maps to the homes of the stars”—encountering this phrase, the reader likely pictures a tawdry map sold streetside in Los Angeles, perhaps from an untrustworthy vendor beneath an umbrella; a few dollars are exchanged for some dubious cartographic information, and a tourist drives away in search of the home of their favored celebrities. Such “star maps” have been a fixture of Hollywood, and its cinema—often appearing onscreen as props or sometimes, MacGuffins—for much longer than is frequently supposed, and in a wider variety of cartographic and cinematic contexts.

Celebrity cartography began as a real estate promotion in the 1910s; “live here and a star will be your neighbor,” ran the logic. By the 1920s, star maps were a mainstay of Los Angeles tourism, often used aboard tour buses, of which there was a busy traffic (Figure 1). The fortunes of such maps waxed (becoming a mainstay of popular television sitcoms in the 1950s) and waned (associating with the demimonde of Hollywood Boulevard in the 1970s) over the decades, before being replaced by online versions of the phenomenon in the early 2000s. There, competing with fan-made maps, celebrity cartography has diffused so as to be less present as a noteworthy phenomenon.


Figure 1. Circa 1920s, “with megaphone in hand, a guide directs attention toward the residence of Gloria Swanson.” From Beverly Hills: Portrait of a Fabled City (Douglas-West: Los Angeles, 1975).


I visited the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum to examine their collection of star maps and adjacent californiana, including coloring books, pamphlets, postcards, tickets, and more. In what follows, I want to focus on two such artifacts—specifically, two maps, which at first glance appear identical—and what they can reveal about the history of the star map as a genre of cartography over time, and the way its fortunes, status in Los Angeles, and fan usage changed.


One relatively early star map in the collection is the 1937/38 Guide and Map with Home Addresses of Movie Stars (Wesley Lake: Los Angeles, 1937. Featured image of the guide's slipcover at the top of the blog). The map, which was widely printed in its time, would have been advertised for sale in fan magazines via mail order as well as being sold on the streets of Los Angeles. To this end, it was issued in a slipcover, which has both a postal utility, protecting its contents as it makes its way to the purchaser, as well as a preservation utility—such maps often served as keepsakes. Indeed, this map appears to have been kept by the original user who in 1940 annotated the back as follows: “In memory of a happy day with Francis driving around looking at movie stars homes” [sic].

Such annotations were typical of the star map as a genre of cartography; indeed, most star maps that show evidence of use document the celebrities that the given fan hoped to see. This map is no exception. More than 30 celebrity names and addresses are marked to visit (out of ~300 listed), from Jean Arthur to Claude Rains (Figure 3). The map offers a red line route for the map user—who was presumed to be driving—to navigate the sometimes one-way and circuitous roads of Hollywood and Beverly Hills.


Figure 3. Guide and Map with Home Addresses of Movie Stars (Wesley Lake: Los Angeles, 1938). Note that the map has a different publication date from its slipcover.


The copyright holder of this map is Wesley Lake, who continued publishing and selling these maps into the 1950s, when his granddaughter Vivienne Welton took over the business. She became the doyenne of the star map business, the product’s most well-known purveyor and a frequent subject of local news in Los Angeles (not least when the city took her to court, more on which below). The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum also has in its collection an example of one of the Welton maps, this one from 1978. Comparing the two—Lake, 1938; Welton, 1978—can reveal much about the changing status of the star map, and indeed of Hollywood, in the interim.

Some components of the maps remain the same between decades, including the basic format of the document (a road map framed by addresses), the pictured territory, and certain terminology, some of which was surely by the 1970s rather quaint, if not outmoded: “a trip through movieland” to see the “picture people” (Figure 4). The star map’s most defining cartographic eccentricity has also been maintained, namely its ironic use of the star as a map symbol—a commonplace in many map genres, typically indicating only a specific location—and, simultaneously, as a symbol of celebrity. With this double meaning, the maps play knowingly with the language of cartography, enabling “you to easily locate your star.”

Much else on the map has changed, however. The 1978 map has expanded the alphanumeric scale and added a grid in order to provide a more finely-tuned locating process. The red-line driving route has changed, now encouraging the map-user to venture into Bel-Air; there is no longer any start and end point, as such, but rather an endless loop from neighborhood to neighborhood. Meanwhile, the back of the map, which in 1937 had been blank, now arrives with editorial commentary and “news of interest concerning movie and tv celebrities.” For instance, in reference to the cancellation in the same year, 1978, of both of the television series The Six Million Dollar Man and its spin-off, The Bionic Woman, the map reports that “the bionic boom” has come to an end. The filmic star map has expanded to include the televisual.


Figure 4. Souvenir Map: A Guide to Starland Estates and Mansions (Vivian Welton: Los Angeles, 1978).


Without annotations, there is no way of knowing how (or if) the 1978 map was used. Certainly, we know that the addresses offered on the map still had a reputation for being erroneous, a reputation which the publisher had to guard against. Both editions offer the proviso that “the listings herein are frequently revised and effort is always being made to secure accuracy but the publisher does not assume any responsibility for errors or changes of address.” However, a major addition to the later map indicates the changing practice of map users: “WARNING: DO NOT GO TO ANY OF THE DOORS LISTED ON THIS MAP. YOU COULD BE ARRESTED. IT IS AGAINST THE LAW.”

 There are at least two possible explanations for this new, bolded warning. One would be a new, cautionary culture of privacy that transpired after the Manson murders of 1969. In New Hollywood Los Angeles, as literary critic Clive James wrote in 1979, “the name Charles Manson is not a joke.” Post-Manson, selling maps to the stars became more illicit; the maps had arguably moved into gray market territory. Another explanation, and more likely, is the new legal scrutiny under which Welton was operating. She had by this time been repeatedly fined, and sentenced to jail time, for selling her star maps in violation of city code. She retaliated, taking the city of Los Angeles to court, in a case that ultimately went to the California Supreme Court in 1976. Although she ultimately prevailed, the advisory may have served as a preemptive defense against future legal trouble. 

Legal–cartographic debates of this type remain topical to this day. One might include the quarrel that initiated the naming of the so-called “Streisand effect,” in which Barbra Streisand challenged the legality of aerial images of her home being made public, only to draw more attention to the images, as a modern-day variant of the same dispute. But by and large, star map cartographers “won” in their pursuit of making the addresses of celebrities available—virtually any address can now, with a bit of determination, be found online. What is lost in this new, digital realm of celebrity cartography however, is the status of map as memento, the ephemeral record of actual use, the cumulative evidence of mapping as a practice (as the historian of cartography Matthew Edney has emphasized)—rare qualities, all of which the collections at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum preserve.


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