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Grauman's Chinese Theatre to be sold to two movie producers

A partnership between Warner Bros. and Viacom has agreed to sell the historic theater to Don Kushner and Elie Samaha, two people familiar with the deal said.

April 29, 2011|By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times
  • Costumed characters mingle with visitors in front of Graumans Chinese Theatre in March 2009. The movie house is known for its cement-block footprints and handprints of famous Hollywood figures.
Costumed characters mingle with visitors in front of Graumans Chinese… (Mel Melcon, Los Angeles…)

Two movie producers could soon put their own footprints on one of Hollywood's most famous landmarks, Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

A partnership between Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures parent company Viacom Inc. has agreed to sell the historic theater on Hollywood Boulevard for an undisclosed sum to Don Kushner, executive producer of "Tron: Legacy," and entrepreneur Elie Samaha, two people familiar with the deal said Thursday.

The sale, which is scheduled to close May 20, also includes the operating lease for the Mann's Chinese 6 multiplex in the adjacent Hollywood & Highland mall, said the people, who did not want to be identified because details of the deal were confidential.

The single-screen Grauman's — known for its giant, red Chinese pagoda, signature Chinese dragon guard dogs at the entrance and cement-block footprints and handprints of famous Hollywood figures — was declared a historic and cultural landmark in 1968.

Neither Samaha nor Kushner were immediately available to discuss their plans for the theater, but one person familiar with the matter said that the theater would continue to screen movies and host premieres and that the new owners planned to upgrade food and beverage services.

The sale involves the Grauman's building only and not the land, which in 2007 was sold to the CIM Group Inc. CIM, a real estate fund manager, owns the Hollywood & Highland complex and other commercial properties in Hollywood.

Representatives of Warner Bros., Viacom and Mann Theatres, which operates the movie house, declined to comment on the pending sale.

Samaha, who has owned dry cleaners and nightclubs in Los Angeles, made waves more than a decade ago when he ventured into the movie business, producing such films as Bruce Willis' hit "The Whole Nine Yards" and John Travolta's box-office flop "Battlefield Earth."

But his business practices led to a high-profile legal battle with the German company Intertainment, which alleged in a fraud and racketeering lawsuit in 2000 that Franchise Pictures, the independent film company headed by Samaha, had made up inflated budgets for such movies as "Battlefield Earth."

Samaha denied any wrongdoing. Intertainment was awarded $122 million in damages but was unable to collect the money and ultimately settled the complex legal brawl for $3 million.

Warner Bros. and Viacom had been trying to sell Grauman's for more than a year but had struggled to find a buyer.

The companies acquired the theater a decade ago along with six other theaters owned by Mann, which is based in Encino, after the circuit filed for bankruptcy in the face of rising competition from large theater chains.

Mann continues to operate theaters in Hollywood, Glendale, Van Nuys and Thousand Oaks.

Ted Mann, owner of the Mann chain, bought Grauman's Chinese in 1973; it then operated under the Mann name for nearly three decades.

Sid Grauman and partners that included silent screen stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks financed construction of the theater, which opened in 1927 with the premiere of Cecil B. DeMille's film "The King of Kings."

Over the decades it has hosted some Academy Awards ceremonies and was used for scores of high-profile premieres, including George Lucas' "Star Wars" in 1977.

richard.verrier@latimes.com

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