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Grauman's Chinese: Movie star prints' futures not set in cement

Grauman's Chinese Theatre's new owners have increased cement print ceremonies, but some new squares may not be placed in the forecourt; old ones may be removed.

December 29, 2011|By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times
  • Commemorating their movie hit "Gentlemen Prefer Blonds" in the favored Hollywood way, Marilyn Monroe, left, and Jane Russell plant their hands in a slab of freshly-poured cement in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.
Commemorating their movie hit "Gentlemen Prefer Blonds" in… (Los Angeles Times )

Grauman's Chinese Theatre is hallowed Hollywood tourist ground, the famed site where silver-screen stars such as Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra literally cemented their legends by making hand- and footprints in concrete. On a recent November morning, those movie icons were joined by three gigantic rodents: Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Or, more precisely, as Alvin, Simon and Theodore are cartoon characters, by three anonymous guys in chipmunk suits who stuck their "paws" in wet cement while their squeaky, high-pitched version of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" blared over the sound system. Some of the goop stuck to Theodore's belly fur.

The pace of paw and other print-making at Grauman's has taken off in recent months. The complex has hosted 11 ceremonies so far this year for actors including Robert Duvall, Jennifer Aniston, Mickey Rourke and the young cast of the "Twilight" movies — Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart. Kobe Bryant, French DJ David Guetta and the Smurfs also have dipped their digits in cement.

That's the largest number of ceremonies the theater has held since its opening in 1927, when nine individuals put their prints in cement. The influx has raised concern among some film buffs, who believe that Lautner's cinematic oeuvre doesn't exactly compare to, say, John Barrymore's or Jack Nicholson's. And with limited space available in the forecourt, some say the theater owners should be pickier about who they allow into the landmark.

Donald Kushner, a movie producer who bought the legendary theater with entrepreneur Elie Samaha in May from Warner Bros. and Viacom Inc., acknowledged that the theater has been holding more ceremonies — which are paid for by movie studios and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Some of the older prints are deteriorating, he said, and will have to be removed from the forecourt to be preserved. But he added that not all the new prints are getting prime real estate in front of the theater, so don't look for the Chipmunks or the Smurfs there.

"They're not going in the forecourt. They weren't real ceremonies — they were mock ceremonies," said Kushner. Though he said he was still uncertain where the blocks would end up, he surmised that all of the "kids' stuff" would be displayed at the Chinese 6 theaters, located in the adjacent Hollywood & Highland mall complex and operated by Kushner and Samaha.

Plans also are in the works to relight the forecourt and restore old theater signs to resemble their 1930s appearance. The theater is also trying to entice movie studios to hold after-parties for their premieres in the lobby of the Chinese 6, hiding the concession stands with curtains and bringing in other decorative elements to transform it into what owners describe as a "ballroom." (Many premieres are already held at Grauman's, but the after-parties are typically staged at nearby restaurants or hotels.)

Kushner also said he wants to broaden the range of individuals the theater pays tribute to in the forecourt to include athletes and musicians. He revealed that Grauman's is in preliminary talks with boxer Muhammad Ali and is also speaking with the family of Michael Jackson about a square that could use the imprints of a shoe and glove the pop star donned in some of his music videos.

Currently, forecourt honorees are selected by a committee made up of the theater's executives who evaluate "the impact someone has had on cinematic history and how they have contributed to cinema today," said the cinema's director of operations, Alwyn Kushner, daughter of Donald Kushner. Still, most of the ceremonies seem to be tied to the release of an honoree's new film — Rourke, for one, got his square less than two weeks before the November opening of "Immortals," a sword-and-sandals epic in which he starred. His tablet, along with Aniston's July imprint and a November block stamped by some "West Side Story" 1961 film cast members, have yet to be placed in the forecourt.

"It has nothing to do with who is an authentic, for-the-ages star," said Richard Schickel, a film critic and movie historian. "That has deteriorated. It's obviously driven entirely by what is hot at this moment, publicity and money. I guess it's kinda nice, but it's not the ultimate accolade for a movie actor."

Studios are willing to cough up the dough for the ceremonies — $25,000 for "cement and labor" directly to Grauman's, plus around $20,000 to cover costs of the ceremony, according to an executive familiar with the process who requested anonymity to preserve relations with the theater — because they feel the event carries strong promotional value.

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