10 Fun Facts About Grauman's Chinese Theatre

iStock
iStock

Grauman's Chinese Theatre is one of the world's most famous cinemas, and one of Los Angeles's best-known tourist traps. With the handprints, footprints, and signatures of Hollywood's biggest stars peppered across the forecourt of the theater—and everyone from Spider-man to SpongeBob standing by ready to pose for a photo with you—tourists can't really help themselves. But there's more to this theater than meets the eye. Here are 10 things you might not know about the world-famous cinema, which opened its doors on May 18, 1927.

1. IT WAS THE LAST OF SID GRAUMAN'S THEATERS TO BE BUILT.

It may (arguably) be the most well-known of Sid Grauman's theaters, but it was the last one to be built. After Grauman was unsuccessful at gold mining during the Klondike days, he decided to open up a chain of theaters in Alaska and Northern California before setting his sights on Los Angeles. The Million Dollar Theatre (which actually cost $800,000 to build, not $1 million) opened in 1918 and the Egyptian Theater opened in 1922. Hollywood quickly caught on to Grauman's movie theater vision and started booking his establishments for high-profile events. In fact, the first-ever film premiere, for an adaptation of Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks, was held at the Egyptian the same year it opened. Grauman built the first two to appeal to the public, and once they were successful, he was able to build a theater in the style that he personally really wanted to see, and that ended up being the Chinese Theatre.

2. IT GOT ITS FIRST NAME CHANGE IN 1973.

If you're sitting there thinking to yourself, "Wait, wasn't it Mann's Chinese Theatre?" Well, you're right—it was. Ted Mann purchased the theater in 1973 (nearly 25 years after Sid Grauman's death) and renamed the historic landmark. He even had a wax likeness of his wife, actress Rhonda Fleming, created to sit in a chair in the middle of all the Chinese wax figures that stood in the lobby. They divorced in 2001, which was the year before Mann declared bankruptcy and sold the theater to Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures. Though it reverted to its original name in 2001, that changed yet again in 2013, when the TCL Corporation, a Chinese television manufacturer, purchased the naming rights to the theater, which is now officially known as TCL Chinese Theatre (though no one will mind—or argue—if you still call it Grauman's).

3. THE FIRST FOOTPRINT WAS SUPPOSEDLY NORMA TALMADGE'S.

The story of how the idea to immortalize celebs in cement came about has been told in many a brochure about the place, though it may not necessarily be true. The story is that Norma Talmadge, a friend of Grauman's, stepped out of her car to check out Sid's new digs. The cement was still wet, and a light bulb went off in old Grauman's head. But the theater owner himself later said that yes, it was an accident—but that it was he, not Talmadge, was the one who stepped into the fresh sludge. The first "official" signature in the forecourt was Mary Pickford's. Mary and her then-husband Douglas Fairbanks were the theater's co-owners.

4. THE INSIDE OF THE THEATER IS DECORATED WITH PIECES HAND-SELECTED BY GRAUMAN HIMSELF.

The inside of the theater is decorated with authentic treasures hand-selected from China by Sid Grauman himself, but one of the things that draws the most attention is the Chinese wax figures. They were once considered to be so lifelike that people would actually try to talk to them, then turn away in embarrassment when their lack of response tipped the inquisitive conversationalist off to the fact that they were just wax. It used to be good luck for actors and film execs to come to the theater and touch the wax people for good luck before embarking upon a new project.

5. IF YOU EVER GET THE CHANCE TO PRESS YOUR PALMS INTO THE CEMENT AT GRAUMAN'S, DON'T BE AFRAID TO GET CREATIVE.

Marilyn Monroe's handprints at Grauman's Chinese Theatre
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Should you ever get the chance to press your palms into cement at Grauman's, feel free to think outside of the box and include more than just your hands, feet, and signature. Whoopi Goldberg pressed a dreadlock into the cement; Betty Grable did an imprint of her leg; George Burns left his cigar print; and John Wayne left his fist. Marilyn Monroe dotted the "I" in her name with a rhinestone but some souvenir-hunter chipped it out of the cement.

6. NOT ALL OF THE IMMORTALIZED NAMES ARE FAMILIAR ONES (AT LEAST NOT TODAY).

You might find a few unfamiliar names in the cement: Charles Nelson, the Talent Quest winner, for one. But there's also former Yahoo! chairman and CEO Terry Semel; Clarence Nash, the voice of Donald Duck; and opera singers Lauritz Melchior and Ezio Pinza. Any of the other unfamiliar names are probably older actors. Rosa Grauman is the only person in the forecourt with her own square who has nothing to do with the entertainment industry except for the fact that she gave birth to Sid. Also vying for the best son title: actor Donald O'Connor, who had his mom write her name in his square right next to his.

7. ONCE A SLAB OF CEMENT HAS BEEN SIGNED, IT STAYS IN THE FORECOURT FOREVER.

Once a slab of cement has been signed, it stays there. Yes, even the guy who won Talent Quest in 1949; though he ended up more like Ruben Studdard than Carrie Underwood, and could probably be removed without anyone protesting too much, he's still there today.

8. IT'S BEEN THE SITE OF A NUMBER OF MAJOR MOVIE PREMIERES.

Movies that premiered at Grauman's include A Farewell to Arms, The King and I, Shane, Giant, West Side Story, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Mary Poppins, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Hello Dolly, Jungle Book, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Star Wars—and the hits keep coming. More recent premieres have included Solo: A Star Wars Story, Avengers: Infinity War, Call Me By Your Name, and It.

9. IT'S ALSO HOSTED THE OSCARS.

The theater has been home to Hollywood's biggest night on a few occasions; from 1944 to 1946, Grauman's Chinese Theatre was home to the Academy Awards.

10. THE EXTERIOR ARCHITECTURE HAS CHANGED A BIT OVER THE YEARS.

Right now, it's simply the theater and the forecourt. But there used to be marquees on either side of the pagoda-esque building announcing what movie was playing and who was starring in it. And at one point, a Cinemascope sign stood directly in the view of the pagoda. There also used to be a small ticket booth right in the middle, because the theater was (and still is) a real, working theater—not just a showcase for premieres and galas. The booth's gone now as well.

15 Facts About Rushmore On Its 20th Anniversary

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

On December 11, 1998, Wes Anderson introduced the world to his unique brand of whimsical comedy with Rushmore. Though it wasn't his feature directorial debut—he had released Bottle Rocket, which he adapted from a short, in 1996—it was his first major Hollywood movie. And kicked off his still-ongoing collaborations with a stable of talented actors that includes Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. It was also the second film Anderson co-wrote with Owen Wilson.

To celebrate the quirky comedy's 20th anniversary, here are some things you might not know about Rushmore.

1. Rushmore Academy was the director's Alma Mater.

Wes Anderson sent location scouts across the United States and Canada to find the perfect high school to shoot the movie. He was having a tough time trying to find the school, until his mother sent him a picture of his old high school in Houston, Texas: St. John's School. Anderson thought it was the perfect location to make the movie.

2. Bill Murray wanted to make Rushmore for free.

Bill Murray in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Once Bill Murray read the screenplay, he wanted to be in the movie so badly that he considered appearing in it for free. Murray ended up working on Rushmore at scale with the Screen Actors Guild day rate minimum for smaller indie film projects. Anderson estimated that Murray made about $9000 for his work on the film.

3. Film critic Pauline Kael had a private screening.

Pauline Kael’s film criticism was a major influence on Anderson’s view of cinema. “Your thoughts and writing about the movies [have] been a very important source of inspiration for me and my movies, and I hope you don't regret that," he once wrote to her.

Kael retired from The New Yorker in 1991, so Anderson arranged for her to have a private screening of Rushmore before the film came out in 1998. He wrote about the screening in the introduction to the published version of the screenplay, and shared what Kael told him about the film: "I genuinely don't know what to make of this movie."

4. It was Jason Schwartzman’s first film role.

Casting directors searched throughout the United States, Canada, and England to find a young actor to play the lead role of Max Fischer. Australian actor Noah Taylor was the frontrunner for the part when, on the last day of casting in Los Angeles, Jason Schwartzman auditioned. He was wearing a prep school blazer with a Rushmore Academy patch that he made himself.

5. Owen Wilson's private school experiences inspired some of the movie's plot points.

As a sophomore at St. Mark High School in Dallas, Texas, Rushmore co-writer Owen Wilson was expelled for stealing his geometry teacher's textbook (the one that contained all the answers); he went to Thomas Jefferson High School to complete 10th grade. This was the inspiration for when Max is expelled from Rushmore Academy and is forced to attend Grover Cleveland High School.

Although Wilson doesn’t have a credited role in Rushmore, he does appear as Ms. Cross’s deceased husband, Edward Appleby, in a photo in Appleby’s childhood bedroom.

6. Wilson's Dad Inspired a Moment in the Movie.

Wilson’s father, Robert Wilson, was the inspiration for Herman Blume’s speech about privilege at the beginning of Rushmore.

7. Alexis Bledel was an extra in the film.


Getty Images

Before she starred as Rory Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, actress Alexis Bledel was an uncredited extra—she played a Grover Cleveland High School student—in Rushmore. You can see her in the background in various scenes, including dancing with the character Magnus Buchan (Stephen McCole) at the end of the film.

8. Both Anderson and Wilson's brothers had parts in the movie.

Owen and Luke Wilson’s older brother Andrew plays Rushmore Academy’s baseball coach, Coach Beck. He also appeared in Anderson’s directorial debut, Bottle Rocket, playing the bully John Mapplethorpe.

Eric Chase Anderson, Wes's brother, plays the architect who designs Max’s aquarium.

9. The Movie's Editor Made a Cameo.

Rushmore editor David Moritz plays the Dynamite Salesman; he sells Max the dynamite and explosives for his stage play Heaven and Hell at the end of the film.

10. Producers Made a Deal to get a Bentley.

Producers needed a Bentley for Murray's character, Herman Blume, but Rushmore’s production budget was only $20 million and they couldn’t afford to rent one. A Houston resident was willing to lend them his Bentley if they gave his daughter a role in the film. Producers agreed; the man's daughter plays an usher who seats Miss Cross at Max’s play at the end of the movie.

11. Mason Gamble's role in Dennis the Menace almost cost him the part of Dirk Calloway in Rushmore.

Mason Gamble in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Wilson referred to the character of Dirk Calloway, played by Mason Gamble, as the conscience of the film. Originally, Anderson didn’t want to cast Gamble in the part because of the actor’s previous—and very recognizable—role as Dennis Mitchell in the 1993 live-action movie Dennis the Menace.

12. Rushmore Upset Francis Ford Coppola.

Director Francis Ford Coppola owns a winery, and when he first saw Rushmore, he was upset with Anderson because he used Coppola’s chief Napa Valley wine rival during Max's post-play celebration. (It probably didn't help matters that Coppola is Schwartzman's uncle.)

13. Anderson's Brother Did the Movie's Criterion Collection Artwork.

The Criterion Collection edition of 'Rushmore' (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Eric Chase Anderson did the artwork for the Criterion Collection DVD cover, an interoperation of a shot from the montage of Max’s extracurricular activities at the beginning of the movie. The Yankee Racer shot is itself a recreation of a photo from French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, taken in 1909 when he was only 15.

14. Schwartzman waxed his chest to play Max.

Although Max only shows his chest once in the film (during the high school wrestling match), Anderson made Schwartzman wax his chest for the duration of Rushmore's filming.

15. The Max Fischer Players Appeared on MTV.

During the 1999 MTV Movie Awards, the Max Fischer Players recreated the year's hit movies—The Truman Show, Armageddon, and Out of Sight—as stage plays.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2014.

Harry Potter Star Daniel Radcliffe Says Broadway Made Him a Better Actor

Dominik Bindl, Getty Images
Dominik Bindl, Getty Images

For 10 years, moviegoers watched as Daniel Radcliffe matured on film throughout eight Harry Potter films. But the 29-year-old recently revealed that he believes the bulk of his professional growth has occurred as a result of his Broadway stage work.

“It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe told Variety. “I feel like doing theater ... it was really very important for me psychologically.”

Radcliffe starred in a number of films after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the final film in the franchise, including The Woman in Black, Now You See Me 2, and Lost in London. His Broadway credits include Equus, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and The Cripple of Inishmaan.

“There’s something about doing it without an editor to save you, or a myriad of things in post-production that can help you out, something that made me go: ‘OK, I can act,’" Radcliffe continued. "I’ve grown a little bit as an actor every time I’ve gone back to the theater."

Radcliffe crediting his professional growth to working in theater may leave some Potterheads wondering if he thinks playing Harry Potter for so long held him back.

“Not professionally, at all,” he said. “There were moments when probably I coped with the personal effects of Harry Potter not as well as I could have. But professionally, no.”

According to Radcliffe, "There are directors that were, I think, excited to—I am quoting one of them here and I won’t say who—'reinvent' me.”

Radcliffe fans can gauge that reinvention for themselves with The Lifespan of a Fact, the new Broadway play starring Radcliffe, Bobby Cannavale, and Cherry Jones. It is running at New York City's Studio 54 through January 13, 2019.

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