After the better part of a century as Hollywood’s most glamourous venue, there’s plenty of history around the Chinese Theater, much of it in plain sight — if you know where to look.
In the forecourt are the famous hand- and footprints. Only one slab has been permanently removed: Edmund Purdom, a then-rising star who got the hand-and-footprint honor when he toplined Michael Curtiz’s 1954 Fox epic “The Egyptian.” After the pic flopped, Fox asked for the slab to be removed, saying they’d return it when he’d done more pictures. But Purdom’s Hollywood career stalled and his slab never reappeared.
When you enter the through the main doors, look up to see murals by Chinese-American artist Keye Luke. Luke went on to a long stage and screen career as an actor, but in 1927 painting was his claim to fame. Dangling from the light fixtures between the murals are working incense burners. Sid “Sunshine” Grauman liked to infuse the lobby with the scent of sandalwood to complement the garden scenes in Luke’s murals.
House left and downstairs is the women’s lounge, with its original makeup tables. Considering how many stars attended preems there, it’s likely that any star you can name once touched up her makeup at any table you might sit at.
Also house left, but on the lobby level, you’ll spy a wax figure of a Chinese girl. Movie people traditionally rub the figure for luck, whether shooting there (as in the upcoming “Gangster Squad”) or preeming there. All the years of rubbing notwithstanding, she doesn’t look half bad.
Inside the auditorium, a glance at the balcony reveals four boxes, each with five to seven seats, on either side of the projection booth. In 1927 you’d have seen decorative panels there. Grauman wanted his audience, all 2,100-plus of them, massed downstairs. The balcony seats were installed later. The box farthest house right was especially difficult to reach. Legend has it Grauman kept a bed there, and not for naps.
Today the owners’ boxes are some of the most exclusive movie seats in town. Access comes through the business entrance on the second floor. A hidden space behind them is being transformed into a private green room, with a bar, for showbiz luminaries who need a retreat from the crowds.
Chinese Theater endures and thrives | From the archives | New toppers polishing Sid’s jewel | Secrets of the Chinese