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Chinese Theatre Marks 90 Years as Hollywood Glamour Hotspot

by Sandy Cohen
Friday May 19, 2017

"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.

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