Chinese Theater: The Tourists Still Make Tracks to Hollywood Shrine
For nearly 70 years, millions of tourists have come to Hollywood, hoping to get a look at a celebrity.
They might have returned home disappointed, except for the famous forecourt at the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, where for more than 60 years the stars have been leaving their signatures and other memorable imprints embedded in concrete.
Since 1927, 171 stars have signed in on the forecourt. While the roster has grown at a much slower rate in the last two decades, a theater spokesman said the forecourt hasn’t lost its appeal as a tourist attraction.
“We have come up with a ballpark figure of 2 million visitors each year through an unofficial head count,” said Bill Hertz, director of marketing for the Mann’s theater chain, which has owned and operated the theater since 1973.
Popular Hollywood Spot
“I would have to say it ranks with some of the more popular tourist spots in the area, certainly in Hollywood,” Hertz said.
Hertz also said the most popular autographs by far are those of Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne.
“I think you’d find more tourist pictures taken over their names than any others on the entire forecourt,” he said.
In the best of Hollywood tradition, the origins of the forecourt are part fact and part fiction, concocted by showman Sid Grauman, who opened the theater in May, 1927.
Grauman liked to say the idea of the celebrity forecourt dawned on him when actress Norma Talmadge accidentally stepped into a slab of wet concrete while arriving for a tour of the theater with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.
But a Frenchman named Jean Klossner--who said he provided the recipe for the special concrete--claimed in 1949 that it was Grauman himself who stumbled into the wet forecourt during construction.
Only after Grauman’s accident were Talmadge, Pickford and Fairbanks summoned on opening day, May 18, 1927, to provide the first celebrity prints, Klossner said.
Klossner had several disputes with theater management, but said he was called back each time because no one could match his formula for the concrete.
“One (autograph) from Jean Hersholt broke into pieces,” he said. “I was called in to imprint the feet, hands and pipe again.”
But Klossner admitted that his formula wasn’t always perfect.
Special Effort Fails
“I sent to Belgium for a special chemical to give Joan Crawford’s square a porcelain finish,” Klossner said. “But it turned out a little cracky.”
Klossner also said a heckler tossed eggs into the wet concrete just after a 1936 ceremony honoring character actor Victor McLaglen.
McLaglen’s space remains dented 52 years later and Crawford’s spot is just as cracked as it ever was.
Klossner said he kept the concrete formula in a secret code sealed in a bank vault. For years, he was as much a part of the imprint ceremony as the stars themselves, arriving in an artist’s smock and beret, making much of his preparations.
He attended ceremonies for everyone from William S. Hart, who left a gun imprint in 1927, to a 6-year-old Shirley Temple, who wrote “Love to You All” in 1935, to Sonja Henie and her skate prints, to Jimmy Durante and Bob Hope, who both left imprints of their famous noses, to Gregory Peck, who left imprints of a dime and two pennies beside his name.
Hertz said new names are added as the result of informal voting by the theater management, the same system Grauman used when he managed the theater almost until his death in 1950.
There is still room for more than 100 celebrity names. The 1940s hold the record for adding the most number of names in a decade--48--followed by the 1930s, when 42 names were added.
Only 26 names were added in the 1950s and in the 1980s, only 10 names made it to concrete, including John Travolta, Burt Reynolds, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
The most recent celebrity to add his name to the roster was Eddie Murphy in 1987.
One ceremony in the 1980s attracted attention for the wrong reasons, when actress Rhonda Fleming stepped forward to add her autograph.
One of the last movies made by the red-haired actress, who appeared with Bing Crosby in the 1949 movie “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” was a 1980 comedy “The Nude Bomb.”
The question was raised: how did Fleming qualify to join the ranks of Astaire, Bogart, Cooper, Davis, Gable, Garland, Grable, Harlow, Jolson, Loren, Mastroianni, Milland, Mix and just about every Powell who appeared in films?
“Rhonda is the wife of Ted Mann, who’s the president of the theater chain,” Hertz said.
“I don’t think you need to say anything more about that.”