Saturday, February 04, 2017

Grauman's Chinese Theater, Hollywood

If you're going to visit Hollywood Boulevard, you're almost certainly going to be walking past Grauman's Chinese Theater. It's world famous! Today you will be besieged by people wearing costumes (Darth Vader, Superman, Master Chief, Elmo, Batman, etc), hoping to get a few bucks if you want to have your photo taken with them. How did that start? Why doesn't the theater send them packing? They make the place a seedy eyesore, in my opinion.

Anyway, I have a dozen or so old photos of the Chinese Theater from better days. I decided to scan this first one, circa 1958, even though another from the same day was posted in an earlier post. It's strange to see open space to the west of the theater - that part of the boulevard is completely built-up these days. I love the old cars and the sign for "Windjammer" in "Cinemiracle". 

This next photo is from 1958. Again, it's weird to see that open space, this time to the east. There's Toff's, a long-gone eatery. That street running perpendicular to Hollywood Blvd. is no longer there; from the theater to Highland Avenue is the gigantic "Hollywood and Highland" shopping complex. 

The movie playing was "The Blue Angel".  A synopsis goes as follows: "Professor Immanuel Rath is shocked to discover a number of his students have been frequenting a nightspot called the Blue Angel, where a scandalous entertainer named Lola performs. Rath attends the show one night in order to catch some of his boys in this den of wickedness, but he is soon drawn into Lola's sensual spell, and in time becomes involved in an obsessive romance with her that costs him his job, his savings and his dignity".

It starred May Britt... according to Wikipedia, she was married to Sammy Davis Jr. for 8 years.

Hey, rent a mink, why don't you? 

Here's a second view; notice the many fans milling around the forecourt, checking out the handprints, footprints, and signatures from many of Hollywood's greatest stars.


walterworld said...

What a time that must have been!

That tree is long gone from the courtyard.

I was there with the kids in 2009 or so and yes the Storm Troopers were handling security.

Thanks Major!

Nanook said...


Yes, you can read my thoughts regarding Windjammer in the comment section following the link to your earlier post. As can be quite easily seen in this and the last image, the original forecourt trees are in full flourish. Unfortunately their elaborate root spread was destroying the infamous foot and handprints, so they were removed, although I can't remember exactly when their extraction took place. As for motor vehicles, the little black auto is a British job - a Hillman - perhaps the Minx model (speaking of "rent a mink"). And speeding by is a cream-colored 1956 Cadillac.

Thanks to the incredible Graumans site, we can accurately pinpoint the 2nd & 3rd images from some time between Friday, August 28 thru Thursday, October 8, 1959 - following on the heels of Darby O'Gill and the Little People (I'm telling you, Disney is everywhere). This time, the Cadillac (with the ultimate fins, is the 1959 model year. Approaching us from the east, is a 1958 Ford, and following just behind it - I just can't figure it out. Anyone-?

I know the current owners of the Chinese Theatre "restored" the forecourt to its original 1927 configuration (more or less), I still say they played fast & loose with what they decided was original and what wasn't. I know the detached, box office with its long canopy wasn't "original", it did appear about seven years following the grand opening in 1927 - the excuse given for losing it, among other things. Although Sid Grauman sold the theatre to Fox Theatres in 1929, he remained the managing director up until 1950. So it seems to me the "original" forecourt is clearly open to interpretation. I'm sorry but the forecourt just looks naked without that box office and canopy. (And don't get me started on the removal of the famous dual neon dragon marquees, installed in August, 1957...)

Thanks, Major, for another fun look at one of the world's greatest motion picture theatres.

TokyoMagic! said...

Even from a distance, I can tell that JOHN WAYNE'S BLOCK IS LOOSE!

I wonder if that Rent-A-Mink Co. rented mink T-shirts?

Nanook said...

TO add-

I think the trees were gone by 1974.

@ TM!-

Another I Love Lucy reference - or two...

Scott Lane said...

Those trees were gone by '81/'82, according to my pictures, but there were two smaller ones flanking the ticket booth & walkway. At that time I was living right around the corner in a building that, according to Google Earth, is no longer there. I remember that parking lot next to the theater well - I used to hop over the chain at the Orange Dr entry and cut through the lot, and the courtyard, on my way down the Blvd in search of my own "dens of wickedness". (as you put it)

Chuck said...

As long as we're pinpointing dates, the first photo had to have been taken between 8 April and 16 December, 1958, which was Windjammer's run at the Chinese.

Apparently, Windjammer was the only film produced in Cinemiracle, a 3-camera, widescreen process intended to compete with Cinerama. The system used mirrors that allowed the left and right cameras to use the same optical center (similar to the way Circlevision maintained consistent focal length for all nine cameras), which reduced audience eyestrain and allowed for a more seamless transition between projected images than Cinerama. It also featured a 7-track stereo system, with five front channels and two surround channels.

Cinerama, Inc. eventually bought the patents and the Cinemiracle format died a quiet death. Windjammer was later released in both Cinemascope and, ironically, Cinerama.

Unknown said...

Nice history all. It's always educational here at the Gorilla House.

All I can say, looking at May Britt's cut-out on the vermilion background, is Va-Va-Va-Voom! My goodness, she's just out there on display for all those eager teen-aged eyes to drink in for later consumption. Me like.

Nanook said...

@ Chuck-

To quote myself... The use of mirrors on the 'A' & 'C' projectors was merely a way around the Cinerama patents. They both suffer (in addition to visible join lines) the side-effect of a disjointed horizon when the cameras shoot either above or below the horizontal axis. Neither were a perfect system, but the visual effect created from their all-encompassing images are still breathtaking when viewed in the proper setting.

@ Scott Lane-

There's almost no doubt the large trees were gone by the 1980's, I just don't exactly know when in the 1970's the trees 'had left the building'. I would'a thought with all the pictures of the crowds attending the original run of Star Wars, we could easily prove/disprove their existence in May, 1977, but so far I haven't stumbled-across any.

Major Pepperidge said...

walterworld, my young nephew was really puzzled as to why there were several Darth Vaders!

Nanook, I did my research on when “The Blue Angel” came out, but my fingers didn’t get the message, apparently. They have been given a good talking to. As for Disney being everywhere, I have a number of slides from various cities in which you can see theaters showing Disney films. Sleeping Beauty, The Shaggy Dog, stuff like that. Did you hear about the recent problem with certain vendors in forecourt? The weight of their carts was damaging the historic footprints/handprints. Talk about stupid! Luckily, last I heard they’d been removed.

TokyoMagic!, If I hadn’t already read Nanook’s next comment, I would have no idea what you were talking about.

Scott Lane, it IS strange to see trees there, since I don’t ever remember seeing them other than in photos. I’m amazed they lasted as long as they did.

Chuck, if you followed my link to the previous post (from 2012), you’d see that I wrote many of the same things that you did. Not all, though!

Patrick Devlin, yes, that blonde “Bettie Page” wig is striking, as is the rest of Ms. Britt. This movie was a remake of the Marlene Dietrich film, and while I respect Marlene, I never found her that sexy. Maybe it’s because I saw “Young Frankenstein” when I was a kid and couldn’t ignore the accent?

Nanook, the “super wide screen” formats of yesteryear were interesting, but seemed like a footnote in cinema history. However, nowadays people are playing around with new 360-degree video formats, not to mention the rising interest in VR. Who knows, maybe something similar will return.

TokyoMagic! said...

Nanook, thank you for that link. That site is full of tons of great info. I have a couple pics that my dad took of the theater, dated "June 1965," but I couldn't read the print on the movie poster to see which movie was playing and the only thing that could be seen on the marquee was "reau." With that site's list of "Every Film to Ever Play the Chinese," I was able to match up the graphics on the poster and also the date my dad took the pic and find out which movie was playing at that time. (It was "The Train" and the "reau" was part of Jeanne Moreau's name. Mystery solved!) Thanks again!

As Nanook mentioned, the trees were removed in 1974. According to that site, in the summer of 1974, all of the footprints from the entire forecourt were "systematically removed and replaced in order to remove the roots of a fig tree on the West and a pine tree on the East, which were threatening them. This process took all summer."

Chuck said...

I need to stop commenting in a hurry. Didn't I just tell myself to slow down like a week ago? [sigh]

Nanook said...

@ TM!-

Isn't that a great site-??!! I can't get over the level of detail, the intensely-accurate technical data (with great images), and that spectacular index of not only every film to have played there, but also the exact dates, and additional trivia. What a treasure-trove. This just goes to show you two things - (1) I need to peruse every inch of that site, then I would've accurately been able to confirm my 1974 guess for the removal of the trees; and (2) Using what info I did find, I did alright.

Right around that time (1974), a few friends and I were given a very 'unofficial tour' of the theatre (READ: We saw EVERYTHING): The Cathay Lounge; the manager's office; on & under [the remains] of the stage - including the dressing rooms; the original box offices; the attic above the main ceiling; both public restrooms; and that huge projection booth, obviously.

The most "daring" part of the tour may have been venturing-out on to the roof, and then proceeding to walk around the upper "parapits" - such as it is - heading toward Hollywood Blvd. If you return to the site and scroll-down to the May 25, 1977 image of the theatre, and direct your eyes to the top-right corner of the large Star Wars banner, you'll spy the metal walkway, along with its not-very-high railing, which follows the curvature of the east wall of the forecourt and above one of the two original fountains. Yes - Yikes-! Frankly, I don't know how often those walkways were accessed, or the upkeep of all those original construction materials (I'm guessing beyond a coat of paint every-so-often - '0'), I'm surprised the anchoring devices didn't come ripping out of the wall, leaving us hanging from it, or hurtling to the asphalt parking lot below. But obviously it held just fine.

(So... were those original fountains "returned to the forecourt in its original configuration"-?) I'm guessing NO.

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, I think they did recreate those original fountains on either side of the forecourt. Were those the abstract concrete structures that sort of resembled a huge tree trunk?

Yes, that site is amazing. The only thing I couldn't find on it, that I was kind of expecting to see, is a map or legend of who's footprints are where in the forecourt and a list of dates for when each one was created/dedicated. Unless I was somehow just overlooking that from the site's menu?

TokyoMagic! said...

Ooops, I meant to address that comment above to Nanook! And Nanook, I forgot to mention that your tour of the theater sounded very exciting. I did get to go on a walking tour of the movie theaters on Hollywood Blvd. back in the nineties. It included some of the behind the scenes rooms of the Chinese Theater, like the manager's office, but we didn't get to cavort around on the roof!

Chuck said...

TM!, that's the risk you run when answering comments on two separate blogs at the same time. :-)

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, ha, ha....EXACTLY!

Nanook said...


Yes, those were the fountains. Well, at least the plumbing was repaired so those were returned to their former glory.

Anonymous said...

Wow, a fascinating thread. Thanks to the deep knowledge of the contributors, I love it.

I've only visited this theater once, like most, to ogle the hand/foot prints. Probably around 1969-70, I know we never went inside.

Also, +1 for the view in photo 2 of Toff's Coffee shop, a memorable stop for lunch on our visit, resulting in dire digestive disruption. That place became a family by-word for food-borne illness for decades afterward.

Thank you, Major!