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Chinese Theater's Anniversary

The Chinese Theater Anniversary.

This movie icon lives right in the heart of Hollywood and is about to turn 90 years old, but she’s still as famous as ever, and millions of people come to visit every year. Some have even signed their name and squish their hands and feet right in her forecourt, while others have left behind the imprint of a dreadlocked, I knows, a leg and a fist over the years too. 

Other nights there is the flash of paparazzi cameras and a roll of red carpet as smiling celebrities way that fans before heading into the historical legend that is that TCL Chinese Theater, a glamorous picture palace that held Oscar ceremonies in 1944 1945 in 1946, and has hosted glittering premieres for decades.

Surprisingly, many people who visit the Grand Am don't realize she's not an elaborate prop, a theme park ride or restaurant. In fact she's always been a working movie theater where you can buy a bucket of popcorn and go see the latest blockbuster, or even take a behind the scene tour.

To celebrate the 90th anniversary, the Chinese Theater is finally getting her own close-up in a series of monthly, one night only movies set at the old-fashioned price of five dollars per show.

All the screenings are planned to take place in the breathtaking main auditorium and the series began with ultimate musical singing in the rain in February. Future movies include the aviator, a Star is born, escape from LA, rush hour, and several others.

Photo of Chinese Theater's grand opening

Hand & Footprint Ceremonies

The Chinese has had a role in over 100 movies, something that made current theater person president Alwyn Kushner joke: the TCL  Chinese theater has starred in more movies than most actors.

But where did the idea for the hand footprints come from?

When it opened in May 1927 it was called Grauman's Chinese theater and had cost 1.5 million to create, though like many celebrity  its undergone a few makeovers and freshen-ups  over the years.

From 1973 to 2001 it was owned and renamed by the man theater chain before it went back to  Grauman's Chinese theater for another decade and was then bought by TCL, a Chinese electronics manufacturer. 

TCL went to work on their legacy immediately, making the TCL one of the largest IMAX theaters in North America, adding a new box office and LED billboards and restoring and preserving some of since original design teachers.

Then of course there's the huge screen,  97 feet wide and 45 feet high, with every seat in the house guaranteed to have a good view, explained Levi Tinker, 40, the director of tours and one of the theaters general managers. The Chinese holds 35 to 50 premieres a year he said, and he felt that the biggest yet he'd ever seen where the Star Wars episodes.

Close to a century ago, said Grumman had open several elaborate movie theaters in Los Angeles. There was the million-dollar theater in downtown Los Angeles and the Egyptian theater also in Hollywood, but when they were a success he started working on his vision: the Chinese theater.

The largest collection of Chinese Theater hand and footprint photos is on the website.

Chinese Theater Photo

Building The Chinese Theater

With the assistance of Charles E Toberman, he engaged Meyer & Holler, the same firm behind the Egyptian, and main architect Raymond Kennedy for designing the Chinese highlighted ideas of the Orient. With specialty imported bells, a 90 foot high central pagoda with a fierce, 30 foot high dragon motif, frightening mass on either side, and two large white Ming Dynasty heaven dogs guarding the main entry.

Inside the lobby your find an exhibition of costumes from movies including the Wizard of Oz, gone with the wind and Gilda, but keep looking around: there are exotic painted garden scenes by actor Keye Luke and bandleader Xavier Cugat,  statues on the stairs, and Buddhas and more dragons on the ceiling.

The main curtain was painstakingly re-created to be the same as the original 1927 version, noted Tinker, who adds that Grumman invented the idea of using a red carpet at premieres, the first being at the Chinese in 1922 for Douglas Fairbanks, Robin Hood.

Photo of the Chinese Theater

As for the footprints it was in fact a happy accident, though Tinker admits there are several versions of what really happened. Did it happen when Mary Pickford had to chase her runaway dog or when actress Norma Talmadge inadvertently stepped into whether man while Grauman was sorry the his latest project?

It's also said that Grauman himself had the first gloopy  shoe, but either way he had a great idea and  Mary Pickford and husband Douglas Fairbanks were quickly asked to create their concrete mementos. Their prints were taken over few weeks before the opening night premiere of  Cecil B DeMille's the King of Kings on May 18, 1927, and today the Prince number over 300.

Some names are missing, Audrey Hepburn and Marlon Brando refuse the honor, though as for the cement they use those chosen for the honor get a choice of concrete color and whether they want to leave their bare footprints for posterity, though only 10 or so people have done so admitted Tinker. The concrete was specially formulated by the supervisor of 30 years of ceremonies, the mason Jean Klossner, who apparently took the recipe to his grave. During research for my buck titled Gourmet ghost – Los Angeles, I found out that there are some strange stories about the Chinese theater too. Sid Grauman died in 1950 but, ever the ultimate show man ( he used to write and host long stage shows long before screenings) it said he still roams the lobby, checking out that his customers are enjoying the show.

A former projectionist named Fritz is apparently responsible for that twitching curtain, and though Tinker admitted he'd never seen anything unusual in his 17 years here, he had heard rumors, so he advised taking the early morning tour just to be on the safe side.

The above blog is from the Spring 1917 issue of the magazine Discover Hollywood.

Chinese Theater

Chinese Theater  Photos

The largest collection of Chinese Theater photos and Grauman’s Chinese Theater photos is on the website.

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