The Chinese Theatre in Hollywood

Chinese theatre

TCL Chinese Theatre is a cinema palace on the historic Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6925 Hollywood Blvd in Hollywood, California, United States. Originally Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and renamed Mann’s Chinese Theatre in 1973; the current name of the theatre became official January 11, 2013, after TCL Corporation purchased the naming rights.

The original Chinese Theatre was commissioned following the success of the nearby Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, which opened in 1922. Built by a partnership headed by Sid Grauman over 18 months starting in January 1926, the theatre opened May 18, 1927, with the premiere of film The King of Kings. It has since been home to many premieres, including the 1977 launch of George Lucas’ Star Wars, as well as birthday parties, corporate junkets, and three Academy Awards ceremonies. Among the theatre’s most distinctive features are the concrete blocks set in the forecourt, which bear the signatures, footprints, and handprints of popular motion picture personalities from the 1920s to the present day.

The TCL Chinese Theatre has partnered with IMAX Corporation to create the single largest IMAX auditorium in the world. The new theatre seats 932 people, and hosts the third largest commercial movie screen in North America.

After his success with the Egyptian Theatre, Sid Grauman turned to Charles E. Toberman to secure a long-term lease on property at 6925 Hollywood Blvd. Toberman contracted the firm of Meyer and Holler, designer of the Egyptian, to design a “palace type theatre” of Chinese design. Grauman financed and owned a one-third interest in the Chinese Theatre; his partners— Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Howard Schenck—owned the remainder. The principal architect of the Chinese Theatre was Raymond M. Kennedy, of Meyer & Holler.

During construction, Grauman hired Jean Klossner to formulate an extremely hard concrete for the forecourt of the theatre. Klossner later became known as “Mr. Footprint”, performing the footprint ceremonies from 1927 through 1957.

Many stories exist to explain the origins of the footprints. The theatre’s official account in its books and souvenir programs credit Norma Talmadge as having inspired the tradition when she accidentally stepped into the wet concrete. However, in a short interview during the September 13, 1937, Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of a radio adaptation of A Star is Born, Grauman related another version of how he got the idea to put hand and foot prints in the concrete. He said it was “…pure accident. I walked right into it. While we were building the theatre, I accidentally happened to step in some soft concrete. And there it was. So, I went to Mary Pickford immediately. Mary put her foot into it.” Still another account by the construction foreman, Jean Klossner, recounts that Klossner autographed his work next to the right-hand poster kiosk and that he and Grauman developed the idea then and there. His autograph and handprint, dated 1927, remain today. The theatre’s third founding partner, Douglas Fairbanks, was the second celebrity, after Talmadge, to be immortalized in the concrete.

In 1929, Sid Grauman decided to retire and sell his share to William FoxFox Theatres chain. However, just a few months later, Howard Hughes convinced Grauman to return to the theatre because he wanted Grauman to produce the world premiere of his aviation epic Hell’s Angels, which would also feature one of Grauman’s famous theatrical prologues before the film. Grauman remained as the theatre’s managing director for the entire run of Hell’s Angels, retiring once again after its run finished. But, unsatisfied with retirement, Grauman returned to the theatre as managing director on Christmas Day 1931, and kept that position until his death in 1950.

One of the highlights of the Chinese Theatre has always been its grandeur and décor. In 1952, John Tartaglia, the artist of nearby Saint Sophia Cathedral, became the head interior decorator of the Chinese Theatre as well as the theatre chain then owned by Fox West Coast Theatres. He would later continue the work of Jean Klossner, by recommendation of J. Walter Bantau, for the Hollywood Footprint Ceremonies. Tartaglia performed his first ceremony as a Master Mason for Jean Simmons in 1953, for the premiere of The Robe, the first premiere in Cinemascope. Although replacing Klossner was initially thought to be a temporary job for Tartaglia, his dedication would result in a 35-year career in which he last performed as the Master Mason/Concrete Artist in honor of Eddie Murphy in May 1987, leaving behind one of the greatest legacies in Hollywood.

The Chinese Theatre was declared a historic and cultural landmark in 1968, and has undergone various restoration projects in the years since then. Ted Mann, owner of the Mann Theatres chain and husband of actress Rhonda Fleming, purchased it in 1973. From then until 2001 it was known as Mann’s Chinese Theatre. In the wake of Mann’s 2000-bankruptcy, a partnership of Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures acquired the theatre, along with the other Mann properties and the Mann brand name.

In 2000, Behr Browers Architects, a firm previously engaged by Mann Theatres, prepared a restoration and modernization program for the structure. The program included a seismic upgrade, new state-of-the-art sound and projection, new vending kiosks and exterior signage, and the addition of a larger concession area under the balcony. The program began in 2002 and restored the original name—”Grauman’s Chinese Theatre”—to the cinema palace. As part of the upgrade, Behr Browers also designed a new Chinese-themed six-plex in the attached Hollywood and Highland mall that continued to operate under the name Mann’s Chinese 6 Theatre.

In 2007, the CIM Group purchased the land on which the theatre sits for an undisclosed price from the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation of New York and Barlow Respiratory Hospital of Los Angeles. Mann Theatres continued to hold a long-term lease on the venue for movie premieres and continued to operate it as a film house. CIM Group also owns the Hollywood and Highland retail mall, as well as numerous other residential and commercial properties in Hollywood. On May 27, 2011, Chinese Theatres, LLC, a partnership owned by nightclub owner/producer Elie Samaha and producer Donald Kushner, purchased both Grauman’s Chinese and the adjacent Mann Chinese 6..

The exterior of the theatre is meant to resemble a giant, red Chinese pagoda. The design features a huge Chinese dragon across the façade, with two authentic Ming Dynasty guardian lions (“heavenly dogs”) guarding the main entrance and the silhouettes of tiny dragons along the sides of the copper roof. To the dismay of many historic architecture fans, the free-standing ticket booth, installed in the 1930s, and the left and right neon marquees have been removed—but their absence restores the theatre to its original appearance. The auditorium has been completely restored, along with much of the exterior; however, the wear and tear on the physical structure over the years has caused some of the external décor to be removed, rather than repaired.

The Chinese Theatre hosted the 1944, 1945, and 1946 Academy Awards ceremonies; they are now held at the adjacent Dolby Theatre, formerly known as the Kodak Theatre.

TCL Chinese Theatre continues to serve the public as a movie theatre. Many Hollywood films have had their premiers at the Chinese Theatre throughout its history. Today, premieres are attended by celebrities and a large amount of fans, just as they have been since 1927.

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