Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sid - a nancy?

Well every Queen must have a Palace - and Hollywood cinema showman Sid Grauman had many.

Sid built the Million Dollar Theater (1918), Egyptian Theater (1922) and Chinese Theater (1927) and first orchestrated what would become known as a film premiere ceremony with a red carpet entrance for the showbiz elite. He staged elaborate pre-film shows and started the footprints-in-cement tradition that keeps tourists coming into the 21st century.

The Indiana-born only son of David Grauman (who died in 1921) and Rosa Goldsmith (1853–1936) had gone to the Yukon with his father to discover gold- but Sid soon found another way to acquire a fortune by setting up entertainments for the miners near the Klondike River. As a newsboy there, he sold papers for as much as a dollar a copy to news-hungry miners. Once he sold a paper for $50 to a store-keeper, who charged miners admission and read the paper to them.

He stayed in the Yukon after his father returned home and staged boxing matches which turned a handsome profit in gold pieces during those 2 years from 1898-1900.

He joined his father and mother in San Francisco and saw his first motion picture. He also saw the earning potential as a theater owner. Grauman's first theater in San Francisco (THE UNIQUE) with its carpeted stairs and stylized entry inspired Marcus Loew and Alexander Pantages for their huge theater chains. The UNIQUE featured vaudeville performers such as Al Jolson, Fatty Arbuckle and Sophie Tucker, as well as movies, including the West Coast premiere of “The Great Train Robbery.”

Grauman took over six theaters in the Bay Area. He later sold his theaters to Hungarian-Jewish immigrant Adolph Zukor (who created Paramount Pictures) and Grauman started expanding into Los Angeles (downtown) and Hollywood.

On Feb. 18, 1918, Grauman opened the 2,300-seat Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles, with Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks in attendance to watch William S. Hart’s “The Silent Man” (the theater still stands on Broadway).

Chaplin reportedly used some of Grauman's Klondike tales for The Gold Rush.

Sid (known for his Mad Hatter hair and demeanor) loved practical jokes. His most notorious practical joke was played on director Ernst Lubitsch, who was frightened of flying. Grauman hired two stuntmen dressed as pilots to run down the aisle and parachute from the plane on which Lubitsch was travelling.

On another occasion, Grauman staged a Chaplin look-alike contest with official judges, with Chaplin himself as a secret contestant (Chaplin lost).

He also once persuaded Marcus Loew to address a meeting of theater owners, who turned out to be 75 wax dummies.

Sid also dressed in drag for blind dates (arranged by Chaplin) so they could clown on the unsuspecting schmucks. They pulled this prank on Samuel Goldwyn and Jackie Coogan's father.

Capitalizing on 20s King Tut-mania, Sid created 1,800-seat Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. The Egyptian held Hollywood’s first movie world premiere on October 1922 (before then all films opened in New York) for Douglas Fairbanks’ “Robin Hood,” arguably the actor’s most successful film. One of the theatrical elements that Sid put in place was an actor attired as an Egyptian guard, marching back and forth across the roof parapet with a rifle in hand – calling out the start of each performance. ( I bet Sid enjoyed that casting call).

Real estate mogul C.E. Toberman helped him secure a long-term lease on a piece of property on the boulevard and Grauman developed the plans for the Chinese theatre with architect Raymond Kennedy. Norma Talmadge turned the first spade full of dirt in January 1926 and beautiful Chinese actress Anna May Wong drove the first rivet in the steel girders. Built at a cost of $2,000,000, eighteen months later the Chinese Theatre opened. Authorization had to be obtained from the U.S. government to import temple bells, pagodas, stone Heaven Dogs and other artifacts from China.

Sid (according to legend) invited investors Fairbanks & Pickford over from The Roosevelt Hotel to see the construction of his new Chinese Theater. When the stars stepped in wet cement just off the curb - showman that he was, Sid recognized an opportunity. That night Mary Pickford dated her footprint - (and would later recreate the experience in an official ceremony months later).

fun fact: These original sidewalk block footprints were removed in 1960 for the Walk of Fame and have been kept in an airline hangar by a private owner for decades.

Reporter James Bacon told the story that actor Jack Oakie drove by Grauman’s Chinese Theater on December 8, 1941, the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, and yelled at Sid: “Hey, Sid, aren’t you glad you didn’t call it ‘Grauman’s Japanese…?’

In his personal life, he was known as a gentleman - living at the Ambassador Hotel (across the hall from his Mother) and was a lifelong bachelor. He never chased the pretty skirts working at his theaters - instead he inspected the tidiness of the usherette's costume/uniforms before each shift.

The only non-film related person to put their footprints in Sid's Chinese Theater forecourt cement was his mother Rosa.

Sid Grauman never owned the Chinese theatre outright, but held a one-third interest with his partners, Howard Schenck, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Grauman sold his share to Fox West Coast Theatres in 1929 and was the Managing Director of the theatre until his death in 1950. He received an honorary Academy Award two years before he died. The last cement ceremony he presided over was with John Wayne.

He is interred (in a family crypt with mama nearby) amongst filmdom's golden era greats at Forest Lawn - Glendale.

1 comment:

Donna Lethal said...

A gentleman and "lifelong bachelor." I love that expression! Very Clifton Webb.