TCL Chinese Theatre

A point of interest on the Lost Souls of Hollywood Boulevard GPS-guided audio walking tour.

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Audio Transcript

 

As you walk into the theatre courtyard, you’ll notice there are handprints and signatures etched into the ground—this has been a tradition since the theatre’s opening in 1927.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre has been a staple in the Hollywood scene for years. Sid Grauman was a Los Angeles-area entrepreneur and in 1918 he created “Million Dollar Theatre” in downtown Los Angeles. Impressed with his own business acumen, four years later he decided to open the “exotic” Egyptian Theatre which we’ll talk about in a few stops, and going off that success of that decided to continue on his theatre building endeavour with the Chinese Theatre.

In 1925, Grauman partnered with Hollywood elite Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford along with Howard Schreck to build the Chinese-themed theatre, two blocks from the Egyptian Theatre. The theatre entrance was 90 feet high and “look like a giant red pagoda” with a 30-foot stone dragon and two sculptures referred to as “Heaven's Dogs” that guarded the door. Inside, the theatre features “actual artifacts” of Chinese descent including temple bells and small pagodas.

A private opening was held May 18, 1927, with a silent screening of The King of Kings followed by a live showing of Glories of the Scriptures accompanied by “a Wurlitzer organ and 65 piece orchestra.” And the theatre officially opened to the public on May 19. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was the host to the Academy Awards ceremonies from 1944 to 1946 and was declared a historic landmark in 1968.

Today, the theatre sees more than 4 million visitors from all around the world per year. And it’s known for the very famous foot and handprints pressed into the cement outside of the theatre entrance — as legend would have it, Grauman accidentally stepped in the drying concrete during construction and came to the conclusion that if there were famous prints in the concrete people might actually come to see them. He was correct. The first official handprints were of Mary Pickford on April 30, 1927, and that same year eight other celebrities, including Harold Lloyd, William S. Hart and Gloria Swanson, joined her. Over the years more than 200 celebrities have followed suit. And it’s not only foot and hand prints but other famous features such as Harold Lloyd’s eyeglasses, George Burns cigar and Bob Hope and Jimmy Durante’s noseprints. However, the most recent handprint to be added to the courtyard is that of Captain Picard himself, actor Patrick Steward who was given the honour in January of 2020.

In 1929, Grauman sold his shares in the theatre to William Fox who owned Fox West Coast Theatres but stayed on as the theatre’s managing director until his death in 1950. The theatre was purchased by Ted Mann in 1973, who named in Mann’s Chinese theatre until went bankrupt in 2001. It was then purchased by a conglomerate owned by Warner Bros. and Paramount in 2001, who renamed it Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, then in 2013, TCL Corporation purchased the naming rights and today it is known as TCL Chinese Theatre. The main auditorium was redesigned as the biggest iMax (on the West coast we think).

We mentioned the ghost of Victor Killian as we walked by Madame Tussauds, but that’s not the only place he’s suspected of haunting… Kilian was an American actor born in 1891 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He debuted on Broadway at 18 in The Good Fellow. He started to get some small movie roles in New York City and in 1935, he moved to the West Coast to start working in talking pictures, typically playing minor roles (think: sheriff and bartender). Over his first 10 years, he appeared in almost 50 films (though some of his roles were so small that his character didn't have a name), then between 1942 and 1950 he appeared in 46 films. And in 1942, while filming Reap the Wild Win, Kilian was blinded in one eye during an on-set accident.

But his career came to a screeching halt in 1950 when the Hollywood Blacklist came out during the McCarthy Congressional hearings. The Hollywood Blacklist, for those that don’t know, is a list of people in Hollywood that were thought to have communist ties. He appeared in a mere five films in 1951, and was never on the silver screen again. He did make an appearance back on broadway, and when the Blacklist era was over, he did appear in a few television shows, including Gunsmoke, The Brady Bunch and All in the Family.

By March 11, 1979, both Killian’s wife and son had passed away (much too young) and he was living alone in the Lido Apartments on Yucca Street in Hollywood when one or more burglars broke in and beat him to death while robbing him, or at least that’s the “official” story. The unofficial story says that Victor was at a bar near the Chinese Theatre when he met himself a nice fella who he invited back to his place. The pair left together (presumably walked by the Chinese Theatre) and went back to his place. A few hours later, Victor was dead.

Victor’s ghost is said to be roaming around the theatre as a “shadowy ghost” and has been there since 1982, but he’s not the only ghost that’s lurking around the area.

Staff of the theatre have reported that the lower corner of the main screen “flutters” when the theatre is closed (like someone or thing is moving behind it). Others have reported hearing “unusual, unidentifiable sounds” from behind the screen. They tend to call this ghost Fritz, who was known to be a “troubled worker” of the venue who hanged himself behind the screen shortly after the theatre opened.

There are also reports of flickering lights and strange sounds in the employee dressing room. Along with “unidentified shapes” falling from the ceiling of the employee room, but they disappear before hitting the ground. The ladies room in the basement of the theatre is a place where staff and guests don’t like to go due to an “invisible, foreboding presence.”

Let's keep heading east on Hollywood boulevard, past the Hard Rock cafe. Hollywood & Highland is our next point of interest.

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Lost Souls of Hollywood

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