Take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard, and you're bound to see them. No, not hookers with hearts of gold, silly – costumed character impersonators. Batman, Wonder Woman, Frankenstein, etc ... they shuttle back and forth in front of Graumann's Chinese, coralling tourists into taking photographs with them. I always thought the practice was totally city sanctioned – you wouldn't believe some of the things the City of Los Angeles is willing to do to get tourists into that part of Hollywoos – but apparently, they're not only totally independent, but their methods are actually, in some cases, illegal.

Last week, two undercover cops went out on the Boulevard and launched a sting operation, "pretending to be French tourists who didn't understand English or the American tipping culture." Donn Harper, a 45-year-old man who makes up to $400 a day dressing as Elmo, was one of the characters nabbed in the sting. "One of [the cops] asked how much I charge, and I said we work for tips. She said, 'Chips?' I had a dollar bill in my hand and I showed that to her. That was my mistake. When you're talking to foreigners you have to show them." Harper and two other characters – a hooded Scream-ish ghoul and a character from The Incredibles – were apprehended at gunpoint, handcuffed, and paraded in front of tourists before being released on $100 bond each. An LAPD officer confirmed to the LA Times that the arrest is part of a larger crackdown in response to tourists complaints that the characters "harrassed" them for not tipping, and complaints from merchants that the characters are guilty of "scaring customers with menacing costumes, fake weapons and props like phony snakes." Hence the parade: "Make no mistake about it — I wanted the characters to know what we're doing," said the LAPD's Michael Shea.

I saw Harper on Keith Olbermann's show on MSNBC last night – yes, dressed as Elmo – but the LA Times article has everything you need to know.
categories Cinematical