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The Story Behind Grauman’s Chinese Theater

Since 1927, Grauman’s Chinese Theater (now known as TCL Chinese Theater after the naming rights were sold to a Chinese corporation) has been THE spot for Hollywood’s biggest premieres. It’s also a must see for any trip to Los Angeles, and it features on almost all of our Los Angeles Tours.

There have only been about 175 star prints made so far, and the remaining empty space in the theatre’s small forecourt is scarce – so the honor is has normally been reserved solely for true Hollywood superstars. However, under new ownership the theater has liberalized its selectivity and in 2011 had 11 imprinting ceremonies, the most since its first year in 1927 when 9 stars were enshrined. This has raised some concern as the likes of Alvin and the Chipmunks, the Smurfs, and a French DJ have been honored in ceremonies in the famous forecourt. It is unclear how many of these will ever be installed in the actual forecourt, however, as one of the owners has stated that the minor ceremonies are not really installations but merely mock ceremonies, and that they will never really be installed in the forecourt.

Eddie Murphy, Tom Cruise, Michael Keaton, Mel Gibson received the honor of placing their hands and feet in the famous wet cement. So did directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, along with the “Star Wars” characters of Darth Vader, R2D2 and C-3PO.

In July of 2007, the three young stars of the “Harry Potter” movies (Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson & Rupert Grint) placed their hand, foot and wand-prints in the wet cement.

In November 2011, the three main stars of the Twilight saga were similarly enshrined. The prints of Taylor Lautner, Kristin Stewart, and Robert Pattinson are a real hit with our younger travelers.

More than 2 million visitors a year. As hokey as it sounds, searching for your favorite star’s autograph – from among the 200+, multicolored blocks in the cement courtyard – is genuinely fun. Tourists can’t seem to resist comparing their shoe size to the stars’ footprints. Few can match the smallest adult footprint in the forecourt, which belongs to Jeanette MacDonald. It measures just 6 1/2 inches. Even smaller are the barefoot, childhood footprints of Shirley Temple.

The grand opening of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on May 18, 1927, was the most spectacular theatre opening in motion picture history. Thousands of people lined Hollywood Boulevard and a riot broke out as fans tried to catch a glimpse of the movie stars and other celebrities as they arrived for the opening. The film being premiered that night was Cecil B. DeMille’s “The King of Kings,” which was preceded by “Glories of the Scriptures,” a live prologue devised by master showman Sid Grauman. A Wurlitzer organ and 65-piece orchestra provided music for the prologue. The theatre opened to the public the following day, May 19, 1927.

Previously, Grauman built the Million Dollar Theatre in downtown Los Angeles and the lavish Egyptian Theatre a few blocks from the Chinese, but he wanted to build his dream theatre. Built at a cost of $2,000,000 1927 dollars.

Grauman believed that the theater itself should be as beautiful as the films shown inside. Furthermore, he had the vision to recognize that film would be the primary entertainment medium of the future, and built his theaters to reflect his vision. Other theaters of the day possessed a stage for live performances with a screen to show films; Grauman did away with the stage and built theaters with movie screens only.

Authorization had to be obtained from the U.S. government to import temple bells, pagodas, stone Heaven Dogs and other artifacts from China. Poet and film director Moon Quon came from China, and under his supervision Chinese artisans created many pieces of statuary in the work area that eventually became the Forecourt of the Stars. Most of these pieces still decorate the ornate interior of the theatre today.

Protected by its 40-foot high curved walls and copper-topped turrets, the theatre’s legendary forecourt serves as an oasis to the stars of yesterday and today. Ten-foot tall lotus-shaped fountains and intricate artistry flank the footprints of some of Hollywood’s most elite.

The theatre rises 90-feet high and two gigantic coral red columns topped by wrought iron masks hold aloft the bronze roof. Between the columns is a 30-foot high dragon carved from stone. Guarding the theatre entrance to this day are the two original giant Heaven Dogs brought from China.

Grauman never owned the theatre outright, but held a one-third interest with his partners, Howard Schenck, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Grauman sold his share to Fox West Coast Theatres in 1929 and was the Managing Director of the theatre until his death in 1950.

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is the most sought-after theatre in Hollywood for studio premieres. Fans flock to these events to see the celebrities arrive and walk up the red carpet into the theatre.

The Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was declared a historic-cultural landmark in 1968, and there has always been a restoration program in process to maintain the theatre’s beauty. Following the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake, geological experts were brought in to inspect the theatre and advise the owners with regard to protecting and strengthening the entire structure.

Several earthquake retrofits were required to protect the structure and ensure its permanence. With this facelift, the Chinese Theatre will continue to be the preferred location for the industry’s most prestigious premieres for years to come.