On Thursday, the world’s most famous picture house celebrates 90 years at the epicentre of the movie business, the venue of many of Tinseltown’s most glamorous showbiz moments through 16 presidents, a world war and three huge earthquakes.
The night before, veteran filmmaker Ridley Scott becomes the 304th star to sink his hands and feet into the cement squares in the theatre’s forecourt — maintaining a tradition celebrated by Hollywood’s finest, from Mary Pickford through John Wayne and Sophia Loren to Jack Nicholson and Brad Pitt.
It all started when movie theatre impresario Sid Grauman, one of Hollywood’s best known showmen, leased the former home of matinee idol Francis X. Bushman and opened the Chinese on May 18 in 1927 after raising $2 million.
Silent screen star Norma Talmadge clumsily stepped into wet cement on the construction site, witnessed by Grauman who — spying an opportunity — shrugged off her embarrassed apologies and said he would use the footprint to promote the opening.
Older than the Oscars or the Walk of Fame, the Chinese was Grauman’s third LA cinema after the lavish Egyptian a few blocks away and the downtown Million Dollar Theatre.
“He wanted to out-do what he had done in those other theatres and he had gone all throughout Europe and Asia looking at different architecture styles and he was very impressed with Chinese. He had a number of artifacts and antiques brought over,” said Tinker.
The entrepreneur imported temple bells, pagodas and other pieces while Chinese poet and filmmaker Moon Quon supervised artisans from his homeland as they created the many artworks that still decorate the auditorium.
The forecourt, with its 40-foot (12-meter) curved walls and copper-topped turrets, is flanked by 10-foot lotus-shaped fountains.
Two columns topped by wrought iron masks hold aloft the 90 foot high bronze roof, bordering a dragon carved from stone, while the entrance is guarded by two authentic — and priceless — 15th Century Ming Dynasty Heaven Dogs.
On its opening night, tens of thousands lined Hollywood Boulevard as fans tried to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars at the packed 2,200-seat theatre for the $11-a-ticket debut of Cecil B DeMille’s The King of Kings.
Some five to six million visitors from across the world visit every year — as many as the Sistine Chapel in Rome — to see their favourite stars immortalized in the cement these days.
It is the only single-screen theatre to have been open continuously for nine decades — not including short closures for renovations — and hosts between 35 and 50 premieres a year, more than any other venue in the world.
Next up for the iconic institution — which is owned by a board of private investors — is expansion, with a Chinese Theatre due to open in San Diego later in the year, and then there are plans to open in the Middle East and China itself.
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