Seeing Stars: Hollywood Movie Palaces..

6925 Hollywood Boulevard,
Hollywood, CA. / (323) 464-8111 or (323) 461-3331

The Chinese Theatre in Hollywood is the most famous movie theatre in the world. Millions of visitors flock here each year, most of them drawn by its legendary forecourt with its footprints of the stars. Yet the Chinese Theatre is also a fine place to see a movie in its own right, a spectacular movie palace with a unique history.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre opened over 70 years ago, with the 1927 debut of the original silent version of "King of Kings," produced by Cecil B. DeMille. Since then, the Chinese Theatre has been the site of more gala Hollywood movie premieres than any other theatre. (In 1939, for instance, over 10,000 spectators showed up for the world premiere of "The Wizard of Oz.)

And those big premieres are still being held at the Chinese on a regular basis. If you would like to watch the stars arrive in person on the red carpet at these premieres, just see my Calendar of Events page for the dates and times of upcoming premieres. Then show up early and wait (hint: wear comfortable shoes.)

Back in the 1940's, Grauman's Chinese Theatre also hosted the annual Academy Award ceremonies. And the theatre has appeared in quite a few movies itself, including the opening scene of 1952's beloved musical "Singing in the Rain," and at the climax of the recent action-adventure "Speed."  More recently, it played a major role in the remake of the "Mighty Joe Young," in a scene where the giant gorilla climbs up the side of the theatre and perches atop its ornate roof.

It's been featured on TV sitcoms as well - remember the episode of "I Love Lucy" where Lucy stole the cement block bearing John Wayne's footprints? Or how about the episode of "The Beverly Hillbillies" where Jed and Jethro thought that the forecourt had been vandalized by the stars, and were caught trying to pave over the "evidence " with wet cement!

The Chinese Theatre was built by legendary showman Sid Grauman, the man who also built the nearby Egyptian Theatre and the Million Dollar Theatre on Broadway. Sid had a flair for the dramatic, and he was the one who came up with the idea of putting the stars' footprints in wet cement. Sid Grauman owned a one-third interest in the theatre, along with partners Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.

For a while, the theatre was renamed "Mann's Chinese Theatre" after it was purchased by Ted Mann in 1973, the owner of the Mann's Theatre chain (and husband of actress Rhonda Fleming). But fortunately, the landmark later regained its original name.

The ornate exterior of the theatre is almost as enticing as its celebrated forecourt. Resembling a giant, red Chinese pagoda, the theatre's architecture features a huge dragon snaking its way across the front, two stone lion-dogs guarding the main entrance, and the silhouettes of tiny dragons racing up and down the sides of the theatre's ornate, copper roof.

Outside, near the forecourt, you'll find that the fist business is thriving, with several booths set up hawking various guided bus tours of Hollywood, the movie stars' homes, and greater L.A. Two theatre gift shops offer the usual selection of touristy Tinseltown souvenirs, at outrageous prices. And it isn't unusual to see street performers (such as a Charlie Chaplin look-alike) milling with the crowd of tourists on the fabled forecourt.

And of course, for the price of a movie ticket, you can go inside and see the theatre's well-preserved interior as well.

You might suspect that after seven decades, the theatre's interior would be dilapidated, like many of the other older theatres in L.A. But in fact, the Chinese Theatre remains in surprisingly good condition. Its interior decor is a dazzling blur of exotic Asian motifs.

The lobby boasts elaborate wall murals depicting life in the Orient, bold red and gold columns, and a colossal, intricate Chinese chandelier. In the lobby's west wing is a glass case containing three wax figures (from the Hollywood Wax Museum) wearing authentic Chinese costumes from Cathay. The three female figures surround a now-empty chair that once held the wax likeness of actress Rhonda Fleming, wife of owner Ted Mann. Movie-makers used to consider it good luck to come to the theatre and touch these wax figures before embarking on a new film project.

Inside the vast auditorium, the 2,200 bright red seats and red carpeting are kept clean and in excellent condition. Overhead, a spectacular chandelier illuminates the center of a mammoth, ornate starburst, surrounded by a ring of dragons - which is, in turn, encircled by a ring of icons portraying scenes from Chinese drama. Smaller Oriental lamps glow at the sides of the auditorium, hanging between intricately-carved stone columns; black & white murals of trees and pagodas fill the spaces in between.

Turn around and look behind you in the theatre, and you'll discover that what would usually have been the balcony section was divided into four private opera boxes for visiting celebrities. Also, note the large number of assorted Asian statues, gongs, vases, shields, and friezes employed to add to the theatre's overall exotic ambiance. (My only complaint is that the interior lighting is kept so dim that it is difficult to appreciate all of the theatre's lavish detail.)

The Chinese Theatre may not be the best-preserved theatre in Hollywood - that honor would go to Disney's recently-restored El Capitan, across the street - but it is certainly in fine condition for a 70-year-old movie palace. And they've kept up with the times when it comes to movie technology, too: the theatre offers 70mm projection and a state-of-the-art THX sound system (which can actually be a little too loud at times).

But whether you plan to see a movie here or not, if you're going to make the pilgrimage to Hollywood, the Chinese Theatre is a must-see.

Grauman's now offer a half-hour guided walking tour of the theatre. The charge is $13.50 for adults, $11.50 for seniors, and $6.50 for kids 7-12 (under 7 are free).  There is now also a Spanish language version of the tour.

The tour takes guests inside the historic theatre, and the guide tells guests about the history of the theatre, the footprints in the forecourt, the architecture, and about all the world premieres that have been held there. Tour guests get to sit down in the section that is reserved for the VIPs during a world premere, then venture upstairs to the VIP lounge & balcony in the new Chinese 6 theatres. The tour winds up back stage at the gift shop where guests see costumes from some of Paramount's recent movies.

They recently added a permanent costume collection called the Hollywood Legends Collection, that will feature various different costumes for a limited time. The first wave on display now till November 15th, 2011 includes Marilyn Monroe's gold lame gown from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", Arnold Schwarzenegger's costume from "Terminator 2", Rita Hayworth's black satin gown from "Gilda", and more.

One additional advantage to the tour (over simply seeing a movie at the theatre) is that you are allowed to shoot photos of the theatre's interior and the costumes.  Movie-goers aren't allowed to bring camera into the theatre

The famous courtyard is open free of charge to all visitors. You do not have to buy a ticket to a movie to view the forecourt and its footprints.

But the biggest news is that the Hollywood & Highland project opened right next door to Grauman's Chinese. In fact, the spectacular development takes up the entire block, from Orange to Highland, and essentially surrounds the historic theatre. The $600 million project includes the permanent home for the Academy Awards show (the Dolby Theatre), a grand ballroom for post-Oscar parties, restaurants, nightclubs, retail shops, a luxury hotel and parking for 3,000 cars. Six smaller, modern cinemas have been built next door (to the east of the existing theatre), and the main Chinese theatre has undergone a major renovation, removing the box office and some of the more recent signs, to return the theatre to the way it looked when it first opened.

Update: In 2013, they sold the naming rights of the theatre, and as a result, the official name is now "TCL Chinese Theatre", named after the Chinese electronics company that paid $5 million for the right to slap their name on the marquee.  Of course, it will always be called Grauman's Chinese by the public.  Trying to rename something as well-known and historic as Grauman's Chinese is like trying to rename the Eiffel Tower.  You might convince the media to play along, but the public knows better.

On the bright side, the current owners (producer Donald Kushner & Elie Samaha) used some of that money to turn the interior of Grauman's into the largest IMAX theatre in the world (in terms of seating capacity) with 986 tiered seats and a 94-foot wide screen.  They promised to leave the historic elements of the theatre interior intact, but they hope that the new IMAX screen will allow the theatre to host even more movie premieres than usual (as well as providing a more comfortable, modern viewing experience for the audience).  The theatre was be closed briefly, from May until September 2013, but is now open again with its new IMAX screen.

Parking: Parking can be a real problem on Hollywood Blvd. There is some limited free street parking on the residential streets just south of the boulevard, such as Hawthorne. There is a one-hour limit on these streets, but not if you visit on Sunday. Parking is now available in the garage under the new Hollywood & Highland project (be sure to get your parking ticket validated, for a reduced fee) - enter on Orange Ave. There are also paid lots south of Hollywood Blvd (and east of Orange), and there is a paid parking lot on the west side of Highland, just south of Hollywood Boulevard.

(The outdoor courtyard is open 24 hours a day, but use common sense and come at a sensible hour.)

Also see the separate pages about the Chinese theatre forecourt, and the installation ceremonies where you can see the stars put their footprints in cement.

 Getting there: The Chinese Theatre is located at the northeast corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Orange Drive, just west of Highland Avenue, and just eleven blocks west of the corner of Hollywood & Vine. The new Hollywood & Highland project is immediately to the east of the Chinese. / From the Hollywood (101) Freeway, take the Hollywood Boulevard exit, then go west on Hollywood Boulevard a mile and a half, to just past Highland Avenue (and just before Orange Drive). The theatre will be on your right (north) side. You can't miss it.

[For more information about the theatre, you can access Grauman's official website at:]

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