Hollywood At Your Feet: The Story of the World-Famous Chinese Theatre

Hollywood at Your Feet: The Story of the World-Famous Chinese Theatre is certainly the most unique book on Hollywood history that I have had the pleasure to pore over. This is the first complete compendium of collected material on the great Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, which is still located at 6925 Hollywood Blvd., and stands as an active movie theater (three of them, at present) and testimonial to the golden years of Hollywood. The book’s pages contain all the information you ever wanted to know about the fabulous stars who participated in the ritual of leaving hand and foot prints, along with other unique marks and inscriptions of their choice in the cement of the forecourt at Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The honor of being selected to place a permanent autograph was tantamount to receiving the coveted Academy Award – in fact, both traditions were born in the same year of 1927.

Impresario Sid Grauman (1879-1950) was a visible mover and shaker in the golden age of the silent era. Grauman made his fortune in the exhibition business before the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was built. He owned and operated several theaters in downtown Los Angeles, some with an exotic theme. His first monument was the “Million Dollar Theater,” formally “The Rialto” (now demolished). Other theaters included the 1922 “Egyptian,” which was inspired by King Tut’s discovered tomb and still operates as a movie theater (however, it was remodeled and is decidedly less grand than its original inception), And the huge “Metropolitan” (1923, and now demolished). Grauman was the consummate showman from the P.T. Barnum mold, and is credited with publicity innovations including placing huge searchlights in front of the theater to attract attention.

Grauman built and promoted the most lavish and fantastical movie palaces to showcase the world’s greatest movie stars (and directors, et al), who also happened to be his personal friends. The first four to achieve “cemented immortality” at the Chinese Theatre were Grauman himself, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Norma Talmadge (who is reputed to be the inspiration for this marked tradition – however at least nine different versions of the original footprint story have been circulated over the years and are all recounted in this book). Some of the other stellar names include Cecil B. DeMille, Harold Lloyd, W.S. Van Dyke, Raoul Walsh and Charlie Chaplin (who’s 1928 signature square has mysteriously disappeared). [Reviewer’s note: Close friends of Grauman’s were personally requested to contribute their faces and names for posterity in elaborate, public ceremonies. Inexplicably there are as many deserving names conspicuously absent from the famed forecourt as there are that were never bestowed an Oscar, including the two great screen comedians, Buster Keaton and Harry Langdon!] An interesting, little known fact is that the cement mixture for the imprints was a secret recipe concocted by “cement artist” Jean W. Klossner, which was especially designed for flexibility and endurance. No slab ever cracked that was poured personally by Mr. Klossner, who took his secret recipe to the grave. The magical footprints in the forecourt of the Chinese Theatre draw appreciative fans from all over the world (over 2 million visitors make a pilgrimage each year to this shrine steeped in Hollywood history), who compare their own hands and feet to the elegant appendages of their favorite celebrity. Gentle lady tourists – don’t feel bad if the tiny high-heeled imprints of your favorite actress are daintily smaller than what appears to be the canoes for feet that you posses – many of these glamorous icons would borrow special shoes, much smaller than their own real size, to look good for posterity! (See Ginger Rogers’ forward to this book.)

Every slab tells a story in the famous forecourt. The signatures collected there could be considered the world’s heaviest autograph book! Superlative cinema historians Stacey Endres and Robert Cushman have combined their talents and have thoroughly researched and presented the genesis of this time honored tradition, which is still observed at this late date. They provide for our curiosity fascinating details about all the participants. Many myths and legends have sprung up around the figures of Sid Grauman and his good pals. 351 delightful pages outline entertaining details with copious rare photos; the history of Grauman, himself – very famous in his day, but mostly forgotten in faded memory until this tome; the inception, construction and adornment of the stylish Chinese themed theater; a brief but concise history of each honoree, and even a section about “the squares that almost were and those that vanished!” There is also a thoughtful and necessary inclusion of a map of the forecourt identifying the location of each and every luminary for pinpoint reference.

The renowned impresario owned the theater as an individual until 1929. After that, it was co-owned by other corporations, most notably United Artists and Fox West Coast theaters. Grauman remained the most visible manager and publicity czar, with his personal touch remaining very apparent. After Grauman died, the theater was still owned by corporate entities that sold the entire complex to entrepreneur Ted Mann in 1973, who still owned the theater as of 1992 when this book was published. He was the first, sole individual to own the Chinese Theatre, now christened Mann’s Chinese Theatre, since Grauman. Thankfully for us, this astute businessman vowed to preserve and protect the Chinese Theatre and its living heritage. Hollywood At Your Feet makes a glorious imprint of its own and a stupendous record of merit that Sid Grauman himself would have proudly premiered!

Madison Morrison