On May 18th, 2017, Grauman’s Chinese Theater will turn 90!
Try to imagine it’s 1927, and you’re invited to one of Hollywood’s most spectacular events. Thousands of people are lining Hollywood Boulevard in hopes of catching a glimpse of movie stars and celebrities of the era. Massive spotlights can be seen for miles. A Wurlitzer organ and 65-piece orchestra provide music for the prologue. And the premiere film is Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings, preceded by Glories of the Scriptures, a live prologue devised by master showman Sid Grauman. $2,000,000 sure could buy a lot back in those days.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of standing in front of the theater, it still thrills. And the change of energy as you step from the sidewalk into the forecourt, is palpable. Could it be the footprints and signatures of those glorious stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era who’ve left echoes of their lives in the concrete, letting us literally touch the past? Is it the feeling of being wrapped by 40-foot high curved walls with copper turrets, creating a big warm cosmic hug? Or is it the effects of amazing feng shui, as chi is channeled from the heavens down into those curved walls circling the forecourt before it breaks out onto the sidewalk. Whatever the case, it’s tangible and it’s exciting.
I was surprised to learn that the forecourt, designed by architect Raymond M. Kennedy of the firm Meyer and Holler, was inspired by St. Peter’s Square. Apparently there were lots of issues regarding morality during the early days of filmmaking, with great concern about the impact of movies on society in general. There was great social change happening at the turn of the 20th century as we transitioned from a Victorian sensibility into our modern era. It was absolutely scandalous for women to even show their ankles. And who could imagine that within 20 years women would be lopping off their hair into bobs, smoking cigarettes in public, and wearing slinky glitzy sheath dresses. Quite frankly, morality was going to hell in a hand basket, and those movies were promoting a degenerate lifestyle… as some would say. Therefore, the subtext of the theaters forecourt was meant to have a religious, and thus moral feeling to it. What a great way to use architecture and design to shape social attitudes. Below is a fantastic 1925 rendering by Mr. Kennedy, illustrating his idea for this slice of chinoiserie heaven.
The 18th of May is just a few days away, and I may have to drop by the theater again to see what kind of celebration is happening. In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this interview that I recently had with Barbie artist Judy Ragagli, as she discusses the inspiration behind her painting Barbie in Hollywood.
Learn more about Judy’s artwork HERE.