The Quick 10: 10 Facts About Grauman's Chinese Theater
I'm back from my trip and have lots of flossy goodness to share with you all week, starting with one of the most well-known tourist traps in L.A. and probably all of California "“ Grauman's Chinese Theater. With handprints, footprints and signatures of the stars peppered across the forecourt of the theater and characters from Spiderman to Spongebob to take pictures with, poor tourists can't really help themselves. It's like moths to a flame (and I should know). But there's more to it than meets the eye "“ here are some details that are easily missed.
1. It may (arguably) be the most well-known of Grauman's theaters these days, but it was the last of the three to be built. After Sid 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 Theater (which actually cost $800,000 to built, not $1 million) opened in 1918 and the Egyptian Theater opened in 1922. Hollywood quickly caught on to Sid's movie theater vision and started booking his establishments for high-profile events. In fact, the first-ever film premiere, Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks, was held at the Egyptian the same year it opened. Sid 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 Theater.
2. Are you sitting there thinking to yourself, "Isn't it Mann's Chinese Theater?" Well, you're right "“ it was. Ted Mann purchased the theater in 1973 (Sid Grauman had been dead for nearly 25 years) and renamed the historic landmark. In fact, Ted had a wax likeness of his wife, actress Rhonda Fleming, made to go with the Chinese wax figures that stand in the lobby. She used to sit in a chair right in the middle of them. They divorced in 2001, which was the year before Ted declared bankruptcy and sold the theater to a Warner Brothers/Paramount partnership. Which sort of explains why certain stars have been chosen in the past few years, doesn't it? The Harry Potter kids? Totally makes sense. Warner Brothers and Paramount still own Grauman's today and restored its original name in 2002.
3. The first footprint was supposedly Norma Talmadge. The story of how the idea to immortalize celebs in cement came about has been told in many a brochure about the place, but it may not necessarily be true. The story is that Norma, a friend of Sid Grauman's, stepped out of her car to check out Sid's new digs. The cement was still wet, and a lightbulb went off in old Sid's head. But Sid himself later said that yes, it was an accident, but HE was the one who stepped in the fresh sludge, not Norma. The first "official" signature in the forecourt was Mary Pickford's. Mary and her then-husband Douglas Fairbanks were the theater's co-owners - that's them with Sid in the picture.
4. 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 "“ I'm not sure if they still do that or not. I can't say I spotted Spielberg there groping the mannequins or anything.
5. Hugh Jackman is the person who most recently went through the hand and footprint ceremony at Grauman's. I'm guessing he'll be pretty popular. According to the website, which will also give you a complete listing and map of whose signatures are where, the most-viewed stars are: Warren Beatty, Jack Lemmon, John Travolta, John Wayne, Bud Abbot and Lou Costello, Shirley Temple, Bette Davis, Mel Gibson, Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Judy Garland, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Walter Matthau, Denzel Washington, Susan Sarandon, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Tom Hanks, Richard Gere, Michael Douglas, Johnny Depp, Al Pacino and Sean Connery. Some of them surprise me "“ Brad Pitt and George Clooney don't make the popular list? Tom Cruise? Clint Eastwood?
6. 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 (pictured), George Burns left his cigar print and John Wayne left his fist. Rumor has it that Marilyn Monroe wanted to sit her backside in the cement and was encouraging Jane Russell to leave her front side in the cement, but they were shot down. Marilyn also dotted the "I" in her name with a rhinestone but some souvenir-hunter chipped it out of the cement.
7. Once a slab of cement has been signed, it stays in the forecourt forever. Some suspect that Charlie Chaplin used to have his signature and prints there and it was later removed, but this isn't true. Even the guy who won Talent Quest in 1949 was immortalized, and although he won the contest, he ended up more like Ruben Studdard than Carrie Underwood. He is relatively unknown today and could probably be removed without anyone protesting too much, but he's still there today.
8. 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; opera singers Lauritz Melchior and Ezio Pinza; gossip columnist Louella Parsons; and Adolph Zukor, whom film buffs will know as the founder of Paramount. 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. What a good son! 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.
9. 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) used as a real, working theater "“ not just a showcase for premieres and galas. It's gone now as well.
10. 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, Star Wars, Kill Bill, Oceans 11 (and 12 and 13) Batman Begins and Watchmen. The next one is Land of the Lost and it's this Saturday, if you're going to be around.
By the way, everyone puts their hands and feet in to see how they compare to their favorite stars. But if you can fit your footprint in to Jeanette MacDonald's prints, it will really be quite a feat (ha) "“ her prints measure a mere 6.5 inches.
So check out the list of names and tell me who you think is missing. My list include a bunch of older stars - where's Marlene Dietrich? Claudette Colbert? Clara Bow? I know"¦ it's impossible to get them all crammed into the forecourt there at Grauman's, but it's fun to complain about who should be there. Share yours in the comments!