TCL Chinese Theatre’s courtyard tells Hollywood’s story
Joan Crawford felt it was the best way to cement her friendship with fans and Sid Grauman and his Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
Other movie stars have agreed, and like Ms. Crawford, they’ve put their hand and foot prints into the famous cement squares at what historically has been called Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. (Officially it’s been called TCL Chinese Theatre since 2013 when the Chinese electronics manufacturer invested in a naming rights partnership.)
On Sept. 14, 1929, Ms. Crawford wrote in her square “May this cement our friendship.” That was the year her movie “Untamed” landed in theaters.
Sid Grauman began building the Chinese Theatre in 1926, and it opened on May 18, 1927. And that’s when the tradition began of handprints and footprints being planted in the cement. It started with actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford leaving their impressions on the first square in late April 1927. Out of respect for the theater’s opening date, they dated it May 18, 1927.
Mr. Fairbanks and Ms. Pickford were great stars, of course, but their claim to fame also included starting United Artists with Charlie Chaplin and movie director D.W. Griffith.
Yes, there’s history in every square.
And there’s more than just hand prints or foot prints. Santa Maria celebrity Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe were immortalized in the concrete for “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953), and Ms. Monroe left an earring in the cement. The back of the earring is still there.
Sonja Henie, the Olympics ice skating star who skated her way into the movies, left her skates in the cement. (If you haven’t, be sure to watch the 1941 comedy “Sun Valley Serenade,” which features Ms. Henie’s incredible skating, along with John Payne, Milton Berle, and Glenn Miller and his orchestra.)
To this day, tourists at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre love looking at the footprints and handprints, and they’re amazed when action or Western stars’ hands or feet were smaller than they imagined. Or they chuckle at what the stars wrote in the cement.
“Yippee ki yay!” Bruce Willis wrote in his May, 18, 1995, square, repeating his famous yell from “Die Hard.”
“I’ll be back,” star and future governor Arnold Schwazenegger wrote on July 14, 1994. That was the year his movie “True Lies,” which also starred Jamie Lee Curtis, was released, but his catch phrase went back to 1984 when Mr. Schwazenegger said it as an android with clear anger management issues in “The Terminator.”
Some of the squares in the early years noted the stars’ friendship with Sid Grauman, known for hosting elaborate movie premieres.
“For Mr. Grauman, all happiness,” Judy Garland wrote in her square in 1939, the year of her movie, “The Wizard of Oz.”
“Thank you, Sid,” Jimmy Stewart wrote in 1948. That was the year fans saw Mr. Stewart star as a newspaper reporter in “Call Northside 777,” based on a true story.
Other stars simply signed their names and left their hand and footprints and a date. But even a date says a lot. Look at Gene Kelly’s square and its “11-24-69.” While Mr. Kelly remains best known for his acting, dancing and singing (and, of course, “Singin’ in the Rain”), 1969 was the year the movie “Hello, Dolly,” starring Barbra Streisand, Walter Mathau and future “Phantom of the Opera” star Michael Crawford, was released. Mr. Kelly directed it.
One square has a special plaque with a special starship attached to it, and “Star Trek” fans will find it toward the very front of the courtyard. For the 25th anniversary of “Star Trek” and the release of “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991), the entire original cast signed their names and placed their handprints.
All those handprints have fascinated fans for a long time, to the point that John Wayne’s square became part of a “I Love Lucy” episode during the fifth season in which Lucy, Rick, Fred, Ethel and Little Ricky lived in Hollywood. Lucy (Lucille Ball) steals Mr. Wayne’s square and tries to replace it in a hilarious comedy of errors, one after another after another.
Leave it to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to make an impression outside its courtyard.