Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

An iconic Hollywood landmark was recently sold with the sale scheduled to close on May 20th. “The most famous movie theatre in the world”, Grauman’s Chinese is reputedly the second biggest tourist attraction in the Los Angeles area (behind Disneyland).

Motion picture producers Don Kushner and Elie Samaha have purchased the theatre for undisclosed sum from Warner Bros. and Viacom Inc. Also included in the lease is Mann’s Chinese 6 Multiplex in the adjacent Hollywood & Highland Center shopping mall.

Kushner was the producer of the original Tron and its 2010 sequel, Tron Legacy. Samaha won the Razzie  award for his film Battleship Earth, A Saga of the Year 3,000 starring John Travolta. Negative comments about both individuals will be found in abundance on the internet.

Entrepreneur Sidney Patrick Grauman’s began his movie career in San Francisco, his first theatres destroyed in the great earthquake of 1906.  He continued to build and run cinemas in Northern California and one in New York City. The Imperial, with its bulb-studded exterior, became San Francisco’s first large movie house when it opened in 1912. Selling his theatres, Grauman  decided, in 1917 to move to Los Angeles with its rapidly developing motion picture industry. Here he would construct four extravagant movie palaces each with a distinctive style. At three of these, Grauman would produce a lavish prologue to introduce the main feature.

The first theatre would be on South Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. Pickford, Fairbanks, Chaplin, Griffith, and  Arbuckle were among the stars turning out on opening night, February 1, 1918,  to see William S. Hart in The Silent Man. Originally called Grauman’s Theatre, the publicity  surrounding expense generated a new name and in 1922 it officially became the Million Dollar Theatre. A. C. Martin is given credit as the architect of the 2,345 seat theatre but William Lee Wollett was responsible for the auditorium. The Million Dollar being the first of three theatres he would design for Grauman.

Plans had started on another downtown house when Grauman partnered with real estate developer Charles Toberman  to build  Hollywood’s first movie palace.

The new theatre debuted five weeks prior to the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb. Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin Hood becoming Hollywood’s first gala première with the opening of the Egyptian Theatre on October 18, 1922. The  large forecourt being  perfect for a star’s grand entrance before the klieg lights as flash bulbs popped and fans gawked.

Designed by William Lee Wollett, Grauman’s Metropolitan finally opened January 26th, 1923 at 323 West 6th Street, after nearly thirty months of construction. Unlike Grauman’s other houses it featured vaudeville instead of a prologue.  Three acts on opening night plus the film American Wife with Gloria Swanson.

Following the success of his Egyptian Theatre, Sid Grauman financed the Chinese Theatre, retaining one-third ownership with partners  Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Howard Schenck.The architect was Raymond M. Kennedy of Meyer and Holler. The 2,000 seat theatre opened on May 18, 1927 with Cecil B. DeMille’s The Kings of Kings preceded by Glories of the Scriptures, an elaborate stage presentation typical of Sid Grauman.

Grauman’s Chinese is the one movie palace better known for its exterior than its interior. The footprints, hand prints and autographs (plus a few oddities) of some 200 stars  immortalized in the forecourt. Conflicting accounts exist on how this ritual started.

Each year four million tourist search the forecourt for their favorite star. In the above snapshot a woman stands next to the footprints of Van Johnson.

A special Academy Award was given, in 1948, to Sidney Grauman as a “master showman, who raised the standard of exhibition of motion pictures.” He died two years later on March 5, 1950. In recent years Grauman’s Chinese operated by Mann Theatres with most people resisting the name change to Mann’s Chinese. In 2001 it officially became, once again, Grauman’s. The theatre having already been declared an historic-cultural landmark in 1968.

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