From The King of Kings to The Northman, hundreds of films have premiered within the storied walls of the TCL Chinese Theatre, which celebrates its 95th anniversary on May 18th.
In fact, the famous film house appeared in other media as early as 1933 as a prime example of what a premiere should and often does look like. Since then, the theater has starred in dozens of television shows and films, some of which debuted on its legendary screen. The forecourt contains the signatures and imprints of concrete immortalization.
The former Grauman’s Chinese Theater will celebrate its 95th anniversary by embarking on a full year of programming while hosting first-run premieres and special events such as the annual TCM Film Festival. The repertory program was planned both in the big house and at its sister location, the TCL Chinese 6.
“We will feature groundbreaking films that have played or been screened at the Chinese Theater over the years,” says Levi Tinker, a 22-year veteran of the theater who serves as operations manager and historian. “We’re also trying to work with some celebrities on some panels who have also had a connection to theater over the years. And later this summer for Marilyn Monroe’s birthday, we will be working on having a film festival to celebrate her.”
After the Egyptian Theater opened in 1922, just a few blocks down Hollywood Boulevard, owner Sid Grauman commissioned his designer, Meyer & Holler, to create a second theater inspired by Chinese architecture.
Cecil B. DeMille was the first to score a film there in 1927 with “King of Kings”. Subsequent benchmarks have been accompanied by technological breakthroughs, illustrating the venue’s commitment to presenting as innovatively as possible.
In 1930 the Chinese offered a version of 70mm called Fox Grandeur featuring John Wayne’s “The Big Trail”; and added Cinemascope for Henry Koster’s The Robe in 1953; George Lucas’ 1983 THX audio certification process with “Return of the Jedi”; digital projection 1999 for “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace”; an IMAX screen in 2013, one of the largest in the Northern Hemisphere thanks to a major renovation (with The Wizard of Oz, the film’s second theatrical premiere); and 4K laser projection with Furious 7.
In front of the pagoda’s exterior are the hand and footprints of 334 luminaries of the industry.
“You really have to be among the best in your field to be invited,” says Tinker. “There’s a committee now that handles the selection process, and it’s the same basic criteria that Sid would use when choosing who to invite out there – which has been their impact on the film industry.”
Though there’s more than one purported origin story for the tradition, Tinker reiterates the theater’s official account, which blames actress Norma Talmadge for inspiring it after accidentally stepping on wet concrete. He also suggests that the exclusivity of the ceremony offers theater guests a unique spotlight on talent who are not only important enough to be honored, but are remembered among Hollywood’s most influential and influential.
“People love to come out and literally walk at the feet of the people who entertain them from childhood to adulthood,” adds Tinker.
Steven Spielberg recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of ET the Extra-Terrestrial with a screening in IMAX 4K at the TCM Classic Film Festival.
“When Sid built the Chinese Theater 95 years ago, he really went out and created something very special. All of this, combined with the great programming we’ve been offering for over 95 years, is why people love coming to see films at the TCL Chinese Theater,” says Tinker.