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Chinese Theater Hand & Footprint Ceremonies

Chinese Theater Hand & Footprint Ceremonies

Chinese Theater Construction

On Armistice Day, November 11, 1925, the first rivot in the steel girders was driven by the beautify actress Anna May Wong.   The ground breaking ceremony was attended by Sid Grauman, Charlie Chaplin, Anna May Wong, Conrad Nagel and Norma Talmadge.  

Photo of Chinese Theater

Chinese Theater’s Grand Opening

The Chinese Theater had its grand opening on May 18, 1927, with the premiere of Cecil B. DeMilles’s epic film, “King of Kings.”  Hundreds of celebrities attended the grand opening, including actor, Ernest Torrence, who played Peter in the King of Kings.  Also in attendance were his wife, Elsie, and their son, Ernest Ian.

Footprint Folklore

An event, that took place in April 1927, became, by accident, one of the world’s most popular tourist attraction – hand and footprints in the Chinese Theater’s forecourt. Many stories exist to explain the origin of the footprints. There are nearly a dozen versions of how the footprints got started. The theater’s official account in its books and souvenir programs credit Norma Talmadge as having inspired the tradition when she accidentally stepped into the wet concrete. However, in a short interview during the separate a September 13, 1937, said Grumman related another version of how he got the idea to put hand footprints in the theaters for court. He said it was a pure accident. I walked right into it. While we were building the theater, I accidentally happened to step in some soft concrete. So I went to Mary Pickford immediately. Mary put her foot into it.

Another account, by the construction foreman, Jean Klossner, recounts the Klossner autographed his work next to the right-hand poster kiosk and that he and Grauman developed the idea then and there.

Chinese Theater photo

First Hand & Footprint Ceremony

In the book title Hollywood at your feet, the authors recite several other versions of how the hand and foot print ceremonies were conceived. The one thing we do know, however, is that the first official hand and footprint ceremony was held on April 30, 1927 with, only, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Sid Grauman. Norma Talmadge was not a participant and Sid Grauman was only a spectator. The event took place while the large wooden fence was still erected in front of the theater. It was a very private event in which Jean Klossner mixed the cement and assisted Fairbanks and Pickford by placing there impressions in the wet cement.

The website has several photographs that prove that Norma Talmadge did not place her handed footprints in the forecourt, at the same time as did Pickford and Fairbanks. 

Photo of DeMille

Norma Talmadge’s Ceremony

Based on the photos in the collection, Norma Talmadge had her hand and foot print ceremony shortly before the theater's grand opening on May 18, 1927. Even though she wrote May 18, 1927 on her slab, it had to of taken place before that date. Photos of the theater’s grand opening show several attendees standing on her slab. Had she placed her hand and footprints in the wet cement on that day, the cement would still have been wet and no one would have been allowed to walk on it. Photos on the website show a large crowd surrounding  Norma Talmadge while she signed her name and placed her hand and footprints in the cement.  Also, unlike when Pickford and Fairbanks had their hand and footprint event, the construction fence was gone. At this point, it's uncertain as to the exact date her ceremony took place – but it wasn’t on the date of the theater’s opening.  Hopefully, further research will indicate the exact date her ceremony took place.

Photo of Rex Harrison

More Hand & Footprint Ceremonies

Since the first hand and footprint ceremony took place, in 1927, hundreds of Hollywood celebrities have been inducted into the Theater’s forecourt.  Some include, Al Jolson, Norma Shearer,Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sydney Poitier,  Danny Kaye, Henry Fonda, and Judy Garland.

Variations of this honored tradition are imprints of the eyeglasses of Harold Lloyd, the cigar of Groucho Marx, the wands used by Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, the facial profile of John Barrymore (reflecting his nickname "The Great Profile"), and the legs of Betty Grable. Western stars William S. Hart and Roy Rogers left imprints of their guns. Herbie, a Volkswagen Beetle, left the imprints of his tires. The hoofprints of "Tony", the horse of Tom Mix, "Champion", the horse of Gene Autry, and "Trigger", the horse of Rogers, were left in the concrete beside the prints of the stars who rode them in the movies.

Since 2011, there has been a surge of concrete ceremonies, many of which have been paid for by movie studios for publicity reasons. One of the theatre's current owners, Donald Kushner, acknowledged this and referred to them as mock ceremonies. This influx has been a matter of concern for film buffs and historians, as well as misleading for fans. However, despite the increase of cement blocks, the ones placed within the forecourt are still chosen by a special committee who selects celebrities based on their contributions to Hollywood cinema. Practice blocks, completed inside the theatre before the ceremony, are placed on the walls of the Chinese 6 Theatre lobby, which is also used as an event space.

Chinese Theater Photographs

The largest collection of Chinese Theater photos is on the website. All the photos are are available for purchase.


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