Chinese Theatre marks 90 years as Hollywood glamour hotspot

FILE - This 1952 file photo shows an aerial view of Grauman's Chinese Theater in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace now known as the TCL Chinese Theatre opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo, File)
In this May 15, 2017 photo, tourists gather in the forecourt of the TCL Chinese Theatre in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. Older than the Academy Awards and still an industry standout, Hollywood's storied Chinese Theatre turns 90 this week. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
This May 9, 2017 photo shows the ornate interior of the TCL Chinese Theatre in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace, originally named Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
This May 9, 2017 photo shows the dragon carpet in the lobby of the TCL Chinese Theatre in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace, originally named Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2007 file photo, actor Will Smith, star of "I Am Legend," places his hands in cement during a hand and footprint ceremony at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
FILE - In this June 23, 1967 file photo, actor Sidney Poitier, star of "To Sir With Love," inscribes his signature in wet cement at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo/SS, File)
FILE - This 1952 file image shows the exterior of the Grauman's Chinese Theater in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace, originally named Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo, File)
FILE- This 1965 file photo shows the exterior of Grauman's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo/Harold Filan, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 5, 2011 file photo, Oscar-winning actor Robert Duvall appears at a ceremony in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, marking both his 80th birthday and his 50 years in the film business. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
FILE - In this May 1, 2002 file photo, a pedestrian walks over the signatures and foot prints of the original "Star Wars" characters R2-D2, C3PO and Darth Vader, that were set Aug. 3, 1977, in front of the Grauman's Chinese Theater in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)
In this May 9, 2017 photo, visitors stand in front of a curtain during their tour of the TCL Chinese Theatre in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace, originally named Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
In this May 15, 2017 photo, a six-finger handprint, left, appears with a five-finger handprint by actor-comedian Mel Brooks in the forecourt of the TCL Chinese Theatre in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. Brooks wore a prosthetic sixth finger on his left hand when he dipped his hand in wet cement during the ceremony. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2014 photo, director-comedian Mel Brooks displays his cement-covered hands, with his left hand sporting an extra finger, during his Hand and Footprint ceremony on the 40th anniversary of the movie "Young Frankenstein," in front of the TCL Chinese Theatre in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace, originally named Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
In this May 9, 2017 photo, visitors take pictures during a tour of the TCL Chinese Theatre in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace, originally named Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
In this May 9, 2017 photo, door staff Chris Bayus cleans the hand and footprints of Hollywood stars in the forecourt of the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace, originally named Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
In this May 9, 2017 photo, tourists look at the hand and footprints of celebrities in the forecourt of the TCL Chinese Theatre in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace, originally named Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
FILE - In this June 3, 1964 file photo, comedian Peter Sellers, accompanied by his wife, actress Britt Eklund, puts his handprint in concrete at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2016 file photo, Emma Stone, left, and Ryan Gosling, stars of the Oscar-nominated "La La Land," place their hands in cement during a ceremony at TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
FILE - In this March 26, 1966 file photo, actress Julie Andrews, star of the 1965 film, "The Sound of Music," stands on a towel after planting her footprints in cement at the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 31, 2015 file photo, Josh Hutcherson, from left, Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth place their feet in cement at a hand and footprint ceremony outside the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX in Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
In this May 9, 2017 file photo, a tourist places her hands on the handprints of actor Matt Damon in the forecourt of the TCL Chinese Theatre in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. The storied Hollywood Boulevard movie palace opened its doors on May 18, 1927. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

LOS ANGELES — "King Kong" made his cinematic debut there in 1933.There was a yellow "brick" carpet when the "Wizard of Oz" premiered in 1939. George Lucas brought R2-D2 and C-3PO along for the premiere of "Star Wars" in 1977, and the two droids left their marks in the cement out front.

A glamorous symbol of Hollywood's golden age, Grauman's Chinese Theatre is turning 90. Now known as the TCL Chinese Theatre, the landmark movie palace first opened on May 18, 1927, and it's been hosting movies, stars and fans ever since.

"It's still the most amazing theater," Cher said at a recent premiere. "I remember coming here (when) I was very small... It was so magical."

Sid Grauman's masterpiece movie house stands on a bustling corner of Hollywood Boulevard, next door to the Dolby Theatre where the Oscars are now presented and across the street from the historic Roosevelt Hotel, where the first Oscar ceremony was held in 1929. Like a Hollywood take on a Chinese temple, it boasts a pagoda-shaped roof and ornate marble carvings, with a cement forecourt filled with celebrity footprints.

The theater still hosts dozens of premieres each year and its famous footprint forecourt draws an estimated five million tourists annually from around the world — many of whom don't realize they can actually go inside and see a movie.

"Occasionally you'll get the tourist that comes up and asks for a restaurant reservation," said Levi Tinker, the theater's general manager and staff historian.

Ticket prices have climbed a bit, though. It cost 75 cents to see a feature in 1927. An IMAX 3-D screening today runs $22.75.

A showman and entrepreneur, Grauman started building the Chinese Theatre in 1926, the same year he and other Hollywood titans established the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He imagined an elegant and otherworldly movie palace that would transport visitors to ancient China, with its serene gardens and regal temples.

"He really wanted to give the audiences who came inside here an escape from reality," Tinker said. "So he spared no expense in getting the best artists, the best designers, and even importing elements from China."

Grauman commissioned original murals and paintings by international artists with Hollywood connections. He hired a Chinese sculptor to make statues and figures that still decorate the auditorium. He sought permission from the American and Chinese governments to bring in marble and other materials from China, including the "Heaven Dogs" statues that sit at the theater's front doors. Most of the original 1927 artwork has been preserved, Tinker said.

The theater's best-known element, the footprint collection officially known as the "Forecourt of the Stars," wasn't part of the original plan.

Silent film star Norma Talmadge came to see Grauman at his new building on Hollywood Boulevard when she accidentally stepped in the wet cement out front. Inspiration struck: Grauman thought a few celebrity footprints would be a great way to promote his new theater.

He invited his friends and business partners Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks to intentionally put their hands and feet in wet cement, and the tradition was born. More than 300 actors, directors and producers have since followed suit. "Alien: Covenant" director Ridley Scott added his prints just this week.

Those footprints are what made Grauman's Chinese Theatre a sensation, said Marc Wanamaker, a historian with the Hollywood Heritage Museum.

"It was something special, mainly because of the footprints in the forecourt and the attention around the ceremonies," he said. "No other theater in Los Angeles had this kind of attraction."

The city of Los Angeles declared the theater a historic-cultural monument in 1968.

While the building and the forecourt are historic, the projection technology inside has been continually updated to stay on the cutting edge and keep attracting studio premieres, said Alwyn Hight Kushner, the theater's president and chief operating officer.

"Chances are the filmmaker has actually been at this theater — in the seat you might be sitting in — to perfect the presentation of his film," she said.

The auditorium underwent the biggest renovation in its history in 2013 to make room for stadium seating and a state-of-the-art IMAX screen — the only one in the world with an old-fashioned curtain that opens just before the feature presentation, Tinker said.

On a recent morning, Kushner stood in Grauman's old office upstairs, where the theater founder played poker with Pickford and Fairbanks and kept a stash of liquor behind a secret trap door during Prohibition. Kushner looked out on the forecourt below, watching as tourists milled about, shooting photos, fitting their own hands and feet into Hollywood history.

As she reflects on the landmark's 90th birthday, there's also the future of the TCL Chinese Theatre to think about. The company plans to expand the brand around the world, she said, with a San Diego location set to open later this year.

But for countless tourists and celebrities past and present, the Chinese Theatre will always be on Hollywood Boulevard, representing the golden age of cinema.

___

Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at www.twitter.com/APSandy.

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