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Chinese Theater Hand and Footprint Origin and Photos

Jean Klossner

The origin if the Chinese Theater hand and footprint ceremonies started in 1927, while the theater was in the last days of construction.  There are many versions of how and who conceived of the idea of placing celebrities’ handprints, footprints and signatures in wet cement in the theater’s forecourt – but one thing is clear – Jean W. Klossner was the cement mason during the theater’s construction and he was the one who formulated the cement and helped place the celebrities’ imprints in the cement.

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Cement Formula

The “proper kind of cement” was a special mixture devised by Klossner – the formula for which he kept locked in a vault, a jealously guarded secret – and was an essential key to the success and longevity of the footprints. According to film historian, Ronald Haver, Klossner first tried out his special forecourt recipe on his daughter, whose footprints were there in the former curb by the souvenir shop, until they were supplanted by the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Klossner, who was born in France, claimed that the formula had been handed down through the centuries by his ancestors, all masons, who had been in that line of work since the construction of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

According to Klossner, he spent three days in advance of each ceremony preparing the chemicals that would bincorporated into the final cement mixture to be poured on the crucial day. The final concoction was slow-drying and very malleable, allowing for the registration of fine details, or a quick smoothing over if a mistake was made by the signator, or if any aspect of the imprint seemed unsatisfactory. It also dried into an exceptionally durable final product, which has stood the test of almost ninety years of never-ending foot traffic provided by the millions of tourist continually treading on its surface.

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Each block is unique in size, shape and color; no two blocks are the same. When new imprints were to be made, Klossner had the original blank concrete square removed and had the resulting area cleaned out. He then laid down steel reinforcements, the same as those used in building bridges. This process made it possible to pry up and relocate squares, if necessary. The space was then ready for the cement mixture to be poured.  Forty-five minutes were required to set-up for the impression ceremony. At that point, the celebrity wa free to make their imprints.  The cement easily washed off their hands with soap and water and the ever-present theater attendants wiped the mixture off their shoes in order to prevent any possible chemical damage. 

Making Impressions

Making a good impression required skill and Klossner described the process thusly; “Each finger must be pressed into the cement with the same pressure and hen the wrist.  The foot must be rolled around so the edges of the shoe make an impression.” The concrete surface remained pliable for twenty hours and Klossner had a reported 150 tools at his disposal to put the final touches on each block. He did nearly all the squares from the beginning (On April 30, 1927, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were the first to make their impression in Klossner’s cement) through those of Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe in 1953.

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Klossner died on July 22, 1965. He willed his collection of artifacts relating to the ceremonies, (his costumes, tools, photographs, newspaper clippings, ect.) o his family but he took his cement formula with him to the grave.  To this day, the exact composition is still a mystery.

The first to have their hand and footprints placed in the Chinese Theater’s forecourt were Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.  Before placing their footprints in their permanent cement squares, Douglas and Mary practiced several times with Sid Grauman’s assistance.  Finally, after practicing several times, the placed there hand and footprints and signatures in the cement. One of the most greatly attended hand and footprint ceremonies was for Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in 1953.

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Vintage Hollywood Photos

One of the largest collections of Grauman’s Chinese Theater photos is the hollywoodphotographs.com website. All the photos are available for purchase. 

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