LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood has an opening for a new "mayor," and the leading nominees include a co-star of the 1960s TV comedy "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" and a buxom, middle-aged model who promotes herself on billboards.
The high-profile but entirely ceremonial post of Tinseltown mayor was left vacant January 9 by the death of Johnny Grant, the show business figure who reigned tirelessly as booster-in-chief over Los Angeles' landmark Hollywood district for 28 years.
Grant, who was 84, was best known for presiding over the ceremonies that honor luminaries of movies, TV, music and radio with pink terrazo stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He also headed up the Walk of Fame selection panel, organized the annual Hollywood Christmas parade and oversaw efforts to revitalize Hollywood Boulevard as a tourist destination in the 1990s after it had fallen into disrepair.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which administers the Walk of Fame and appoints its honorary mayor, said this week it had yet to formally undertake a search for Grant's successor.
But several contenders are already vying for the role, with longtime radio and TV personality Gary Owens, 71, seeming to have an inside track. As a longtime Chamber of Commerce member, he occasionally filled in for Grant as a Walk of Fame emcee.
Owens, cupping hand to ear, introduced "Laugh-In" as broadcast from "beautiful downtown Burbank" -- a line that helped cement the unglamorous L.A. suburb in the public's mind. He now says he's working on a new catch phrase for Hollywood.
"I'm certainly one of the people up for (Mayor)," he said, adding that he has been a featured speaker at dozens of Walk of Fame ceremonies for his celebrity friends over the years.
"I've been part of the tradition most of my life," he said. "I'm the one who sponsored Three Stooges' star in 1983. I paid for it." He said their star cost $3,000 back then, a bargain compared to the $28,000 each star now runs.
But Owens faces some early competition from platinum-blonde billboard queen Angelyne, a middle-aged model and celebrity wannabe who became a local icon in the 1980s by plastering her pouty, busty image on huge signs all over town.
Frequently seen plying the streets in her pink Corvette, Angelyne was among the dozens of fringe candidates who entered the special race for California governor in 2003, when Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected.
She says members of a local political action committee have now drafted her to seek the Hollywood mayor's job, launching a petition drive and touting her as the glamour candidate.
"I would like anyone entering the premises of Hollywood, the minute they hit those parameters, they are instantly in a good mood," she told Reuters on Monday. "It's like a pink light has hit them -- poof!"
Still, Owens seems to have momentum. He said he was publicly suggested as a possible successor by Grant himself last year at Grant's 84th birthday celebration.
Moreover, he has the endorsement of another key figure, longtime TV producer and "Let's Make a Deal" game-show host Monty Hall, who was mayor before Grant took over in 1980.
Owens said he would prefer to share the job with Hall, 86, but Hall said in a separate interview to count him out.
"He's going to do it all by himself," Hall said of Owens. "And I'll come and inaugurate him and kiss him goodbye."
"I was mayor for eight years before Johnny Grant. I'm the one who called up the chamber and said, 'Please, I have to retire from this position and I recommend Johnny Grant.' ... Now that he's gone, I called up the chamber said, 'Get Gary Owens. And I hope they do."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Todd Eastham