Photo: Jae C. Hong, Associated Press
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 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.
The theater still hosts dozens of premieres each year and its famous footprint forecourt draws an estimated 5 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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
Sandy Cohen is an Associated Press writer.