Saturday, July 16, 2011

Anything Goes Saturday - Grauman's Egyptian Theatre, 1961

Almost everybody has heard of Grauman's Chinese Theater (opened 1927) on Hollywood Boulevard. But Grauman's Egyptian Theatre (just a few blocks east of where the Chinese Theater is) was built first; and for a few years it was the most glamorous place to see a movie. Built in 1922, it was even the site of the first Hollywood premiere - Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks.

Like many of the old movie palaces, the Egyptian had started to fall on hard times - although it still looks pretty good here. For some reason the theater is showing Ben Hur (winner of 12 Academy awards) in July of 1961 even though it was originally released in November 1959. And they're making a pretty big deal of it too! What gives?

Just to the right of the Egyptian is the site of the Pig 'N Whistle restaurant - once a popular chain of eateries. But that yellow triangular sign in the window says "for lease". Ooops! Fortunately, the Pig 'N Whistle was purchased and restored by new owners, and you can still eat there today.

I always like to see what the place looks like today, and here's a screen grab from Google Maps. Pretty different, huh? By the 1990's, the theater had fallen into disrepair; the city of Los Angeles sold it to the American Cinematheque for one dollar on the condition that they would restore it. Nearly 13 million dollars later, the theater reopened, and it is often the host of various movie festivals. I'm glad this part of Hollywood history is still around!


ericpaddon said...

Regarding Ben-Hur. It wasn't uncommon for a major "roadshow" movie to play at a prestige outlet for more than a year in those days. Those were sometimes the only places one could see one of the big epics on a big screen.

TokyoMagic! said...

I love the "then and now" comparison, Major! The theater's restoration returned it to the way it looked when it first opened in 1922 (minus the American Cinematheque sign, of course) The marquee in that first pic, as well as the giant scroll/sign and the covered walkway were all added at a later date.

American Cinematheque shows classic films at the Egyptian and the stars of the films will often make an appearance and answer questions from the audience. Later this month, Barbara Eden will be there and they will be showing her film, "7 Faces of Dr. Lao"

Nancy said...

wow, that is some sign! at first i thought that seems like a lot of cash to spend to advertise a movie, but reading ericpaddon's note above makes it clear why they would provide that beautiful neon art.

proud to say that i have been to the Graumans' Chinese Theater on our first visit to Disneyland. we took the Hollywood Tour and day at Universal Studios. i was able to get a picture of Nelson Eddy's hand and foot prints there....he was a distant cousin of my dad!! ;)

thanks for a great post today

Connie Moreno said...

What a great post! I love the comparison shots. For many years, I admired the outside of that place, never knowing its history. I went inside in 2005 and fell in love with the building and then went next door to eat that the Pig 'N Whistle. Yum I had the best pulled pork sandwich, ever!

While my friends and I were enjoying our meal, the waiter told us that Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, along with other investors, opened the original restaurant and had a secret passage built connecting the theater to it so that the stars could get something to eat after hours. I don't know if it's true, but it makes a good story.

SundayNight said...

No DVD, VHS or TV release of an epic film like Ben Hur in those days. They could come back for years. Also, I can see where Ben Hur would be a good film to get Hollywood tourists to visit. I remember seeing a re-release of Ben Hur in a theater in the 70s. A great film. Nice to see that the Egyptian has been restored. Neat to see that the Pig n Whistle is still next door!

Katella Gate said...

After you eat at the Pig and Whistle, please step next door to Harry Dine's fashionable Men's Store.

This hat is in season for the summer:

And while you're at it, pick up a fresh tie for the wardrobe:

(photos from, no affiliation)

Major Pepperidge said...

Eric, I know you are right, but still this is nearly 2 years later. And the neon signs, etc... crazy!

TM!, weren't we just talking about Barbara Eden?!? Maybe this is why you had her on the brain.

Nancy - very cool that you are related to Nelson Eddy!

Connie, that IS a good story. I'd love to verify if it is true - and if the tunnel is still there.

SundayNight, I should have mentioned that I saw a movie at the Egyptian back in the 70's. "Frankenstein's Bloody Terror"! An Italian horror movie - in glorious 3-D.

Katella, thanks for the fun links!

American Cinematheque said...

BEN-HUR opened in 1959 and had an incredible two year engagement !

There is no tunnel. We found an original Pig ‘n Whistle tile during the renovation though. It can be seen in our courtyard.

Visit us soon !

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, My brother follows all the revival theater stuff and goes to a lot of the showings. He told me about Barbra Eden's upcoming appearance at the Egyptian the day after you and I were talking about her! Weird coincidence, huh?

Steve Winer said...

My parents and I spent summers in Hollywood during that period, and I remember walking past that theater in successive years and seeing Ben-Hur playing there each time. I was just a kid then and I wondered if that was a permanent attraction. And I remember that they had Charlton Heston's chariot from the film on display all that time. If you look closely at this photo, you can spot it under the "B" in the lower Ben-Hur sign.
Thanks for bringing back these memories.

JG said...

These are great Major, I thoroughly approve of your new format.


Major Pepperidge said...

Thank you, American Cinematheque, even if you've shattered my dreams about the tunnel.

TM!, I almost wouldn't want to see Barbara Eden (even though I'm sure she is still lovely), because I always want to remember her as young and gorgeous. I do love that George Pal movie, though!

Steve, I did notice the chariot! My memories of the Egyptian are of a very run-down building. I'm glad it's back!

JG, I'm glad I have your stamp of approval.