Holding Hands with Gregory Peck: Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

Our Los Angeles visit could not end without a nod to the city’s cinematic heart. On this trip, this meant watching a movie at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (now the TCL Chinese Theatre). One of the  most opulent “movie palaces” in the country, it has hosted many of the grandest film galas since its debut in 1927. The 1939 premiere of The Wizard of Oz, for example, drew over 10,000 spectators — this is where the stars came to be seen, and where the public clamored to see them.

TCL Chinese Theater, Los Angeles

The theater was the brainchild of Sid Grauman, Hollywood’s visionary showman who also built The Egyptian Theatre nearby, the site of Hollywood’s very first film premiere, Robin Hood (1922) with Douglas Fairbanks. For the Chinese Theatre, artisans and many of the decorative features–the pagodas, the temple bells, and even the massive stone Heaven Dogs by the entrance–were brought in from China, and you can still spot hidden messages that the artisans left on the theater walls and ceilings. All this cost a pretty penny. To help finance the venture, Grauman partnered with Fairbanks and Mary Pickford (then Hollywood’s golden couple), as well as Joseph Schenck, the head of United Artists and later the co-founder of The 20th Century Fox.

Cement print of Gregory Peck's hands, Grauman Chinese Theatre's Forecourt of Stars, LA

Holding hands with Sid’s friend, Gregory Peck

All three contributed to the theater’s most popular feature: the Forecourt of Stars, teeming with famous hand and foot prints. Pickford, Fairbanks, and Norma Talmadge, a silent film star and Schenck’s wife, were the first to be immortalized in cement (an unexpected travel connection: Talmadge was born in Niagara Falls, my recent land, air, and boat conquest). The tradition took hold and is continued to this day. Here’s an unofficial map of everyone there — over 200 celebrities, plus Sid Grauman’s mother, Rosa.

Judy Garland, Forecourt of Start, Grauman's Chinese Theater, Los Angeles

Judy Garland’s feet were TINY

Message from Clark Gable, Grauman's Chinese theater

Forecourt of Stars, Marylin Monroe and Sophia Lauren, Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Prints in cement from Star Trek stars, Grauman's Chinese theater

C3PO cement print, Star Wars, Grauman's Chinese Theatre's Forecourt of Stars

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson prints in Forecourt of Stars, Grauman's Chinese Theatre, LA

Closeup of Dorothy's dress, Grauman's Chinese theatre, LA

One of the dresses Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz

Most visitors stop at the forecourt, but I really enjoyed the 30-minute VIP Tour of the theater’s interior (well worth $13.50; reserve in advance). The building is full of fascinating nooks and crannies, stories, legends, and well-worn traditions (there is, predictably, a statue that, if properly rubbed, will grant you all of your wishes). Plus there are the dresses and movie props: Judy Garland’s, Vivien Leigh’s, Marilyn Monroe’s, to name just three.

Vivien Leigh wore this dress in Gone with the Wind, Grauman's Chinese Theater, LA

THE curtain dress from Gone with the Wind

Marilyn Monroe's dress at Grauman's Chinese Theater

NOT what Marilyn looked like when she wore this in Gentlemen Prefer Blonds

Make sure to visit the bathroom. The ladies’ powder room is where the screen sirens escaped from the crowds–you can sit where Marilyn sat and look into the same mirror she looked into (go to the tour and find out which one of these two seats is the one!). One of the lower panels once hid a tunnel that led to a hotel nearby. This came in handy, especially during Prohibition.

Marilyn Monroe sat at this Powder Room, Grauman's Chinese theatre

The centerpiece of the tour, though, is the movie hall itself, opulent in its red velvet glory. The theater was renovated recently to offer a modern viewing experience (premieres are still being hosted here, after all), but pains were taken to preserve the character of the place and its historic features. Presiding above it all is this spectacular ceiling:

Ceiling at the TCL Chinese Theatre, Lost Angeles

The movie we watched after the tour was terrible, but doing it here was worth every cringe and eyeroll.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Read on:

 

Other California posts:

Other historic movie palaces:

  • My Richmond Five (scroll down to#5: Byrd Theatre, Carytown, Richmond, Virginia)

7 thoughts on “Holding Hands with Gregory Peck: Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

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