Classic Hollywood: Impressions of the Chinese Theatre at 90

To Jamie Lee Curtis, “the Chinese Theatre humanized, in the hand and footprints, the famous. It wasn’t a glossy picture that seemed unattainable, but something human and tangible.”

To Carol Burnett, it was the place her grandmother flagged down Linda Darnell for an autograph — and little Carol “looked up and I could see — she was tall and, of course, I was little — that her nostrils didn’t match.”

To director Joe Dante, it was a backdrop for his film “Hollywood Boulevard,” but the movie “was so cheap, we couldn’t afford a ticket to go inside” to shoot. Which is why the shot of the Chinese is from across the street.

This week, what’s now known as the TCL Chinese Theatre Imax turned 90, and for those inside and outside the Hollywood establishment, the memories of the movie palace that Sid Grauman built are coming back.

We’d like to know what you remember best about the place. To get you going, the L.A. Times’ entertainment staff has collected anecdotes from the stars.

Welcome to this month’s edition of the Classic Hollywood newsletter. I’m Scott Sandell, and, yes, I recall seeing the original “Star Wars” there in one of the dozen or so times I watched the film in my youth.

Of course, we made a stop in the Forecourt of the Stars, where the famous hand- and footprints lie. And we looked for John Wayne’s slab, the subject of some famous “I Love Lucy” moments. But little did I know the history and secrets embedded in the cement. My colleague Meredith Woerner dug those up.

Susan King took a tour with Levi Tinker, who has been a guide at the theater for 17 years and manages it. He revealed some of the details that went into the construction of Grauman’s Chinese. One thing that wasn’t there when it opened in 1927: a concession stand. “He felt that when you come inside, you would be transported off to a different time and different place,” Tinker said. No popcorn for you!

What the place lacked in empty calories, it made up for in showmanship. “There was a 65-piece orchestra, musical performers on stage and a lot of times they’d actually have someone from the production involved. Like for ‘The Gaucho,’ the second movie to play here, for the first couple of weeks Douglas Fairbanks played the Gaucho on stage as well as in the movie itself,” Tinker said.

Before Grauman died on March 5, 1950, he was still involved with the theater, even though he had sold it to Fox in 1929. As Kevin Crust notes, Grauman’s death touched off a strange dispute over his estate, including a note written in blue crayon.

And while you’re at it, check out the photos from 90 years of history at the Forecourt of the Stars, including that time Sylvester Stallone forgot to cross all his Ts. Hey, we all make mistakes.

THE STORY OF ONE LOVE

Kirk and Anne Douglas have been married for 63 years, and during that time they’ve had a lot of ups and downs. Yet in true soul-mate fashion, they made it through the tough times — and now they have a new book of their letters to each other.

“Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood” shows that the tough guy on screen wasn’t afraid to convey his soft side in real life. Susan King interviewed them recently on camera, and they related the story not only of how they met but also how Anne saved his life.

COMEDY: WHAT A CONCEPT

Comedy is one of those things that has long seemed more suited to clubs than classrooms; after all, the class clown is at best tolerated and at worst given the boot in many academic settings. But the University of Southern California is taking a more studious approach to the subject, and on June 6 the university will dedicate the Robin Williams Endowed Chair in Comedy, with an endowment from the George Lucas Family Foundation. It comes nearly three years after Williams’ death.

“I think Dad would find it really exciting,” the actor’s daughter, Zelda Williams, told Times reporter Josh Rottenberg. “I also think he’d find it fascinating and confusing.

“He’d be, like, ‘What? They’re actually going to do that now?’ Comedy isn’t something that I think for a long time anyone even tried to teach. When he was at college, a lot of the way he learned it was by busking on the street.”

HOW WWII CHANGED FIVE DIRECTORS

Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens and William Wyler are legendary directors by any measure. As the Netflix documentary “Five Came Back” shows, their work would be informed by their experiences in World War II. It’s directed by documentary veteran Laurent Bouzereau and written by Mark Harris, based on his bestselling book.

Times film critic Kenneth Turan calls it “thorough, thoughtful and authoritative, an experience that honors the multiple complexities of this situation and, best of all, helps us feel what these directors felt as they went forward into what was very much terra incognita.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

— Fifty years after “The Graduate” came out, Turan and fellow Times film critic Justin Chang debate the film’s merits today. How does it hold up?

— Speaking of anniversaries, “L.A. Confidential” recently marked its 20th. Here’s a look back at the film that resulted from a supposedly unadaptable novel.

Brad Grey, an old-school mogul who helped usher in the golden age of TV by championing “The Sopranos” and led Paramount Pictures through turbulent times, has died at age 59.

Jason Connery has some warm memories of golf with his father, Sean Connery. The son has directed a new golf-related drama and reports dad is “still plugging away” at the game at age 86.

“Roseanne” ended its run in 1997, but the family sitcom led by comedian Roseanne Barr will be returning to ABC in 2018.

— At 97, Norma Miller is the only surviving member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, who danced in the Marx Brothers 1937 comedy “A Day at the Races” and in the 1941 Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson comedy “Hellzapoppin.” The new documentary “Alive and Kicking” examines her life.

— The Cannes Film Festival celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. Kenneth Turan, Justin Chang and Steven Zeitchik have been working their way up and down the Croisette since the glamorous French festival began on Wednesday. You’ll find the best of their coverage on our Today in Entertainment feed.

Carl Reiner and his nonagenarian friends are the stars of the documentary “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.” Good advice for us all.

For more vintage Hollywood, go to the Classic Hollywood Los Angeles Times Facebook page.

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