Planet's stars lose their shine

Cruel observers would say that the fortunes of Planet Hollywood reflect those of the "Tinsel Town" actors who inspired it, writes Dan Gledhill. In 1991, when its first branch opened in New York, the careers of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis were at their zeniths. How else could otherwise sane diners be persuaded to part with pounds 8.95 for a hamburger and chips?

A restaurant in London's Piccadilly followed in 1993 and, as the concept spread around the globe, so the name Planet Hollywood began to look almost appropriate. The appearance of one or all of the celebrity backers at a new restaurant was enough to ensure a successful launch. Wherever the premises, an interior infested with movie memorabilia sustained the illusion that guests were dining with their cinematic heroes.

Robert Earl, Planet Hollywood's British founder, followed the upbeat plot. He expanded the chain relentlessly until it peaked this year with 87 outlets in 36 countries.

Unfortunately, movie tastes have moved on. All-action heroes like Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis have been superseded by the smaller but more beautifully formed talents of Johnny Depp and Leonardo di Caprio. Identifying Demi Moore's last decent film has become a taxing parlour game. Earl's strategy began to look outdated but his attempts to update the concept with a new generation of stars failed. In his defence, the break-up of Willis's marriage to Moore and last year's bomb in his Cape Town branch could hardly have been anticipated.

So it was that Planet Hollywood's foundations proved too shaky to support its globalisation and a company once valued at $2bn (pounds 1.2bn) last week filed for protection from the creditors it owed $250m. No one has felt the loss more keenly than Earl, a Labour Party donor whose initial investment of $50,000 was transformed into an $800m fortune before the rot set in. Now he has the chance to start again thanks to the beneficence of Prince Al Waleed and Ong Beng Seng, who along with Earl will each own a third of the company. The reputations of Hollywood stars may wane, but Earl can console himself that the billion-dollar fortunes of his partners should prove a more reliable foundation.

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