An Accident Led To The Famed Chinese Theatre Cement Footprints

American showman Sid Grauman built the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, California, in 1922 during the silent film era. The film theater was such a success that Grauman decided to start building a second theater located at 6925 Hollywood Boulevard. Grauman's Chinese Theatre (now called TCL Chinese Theater) began construction in 1926 and was officially opened in May 1927, per Discover Los Angeles.

The construction of the theater cost $2 million (about $32.6 million in today's money), and its design features a Chinese pagoda with red columns. Two Chinese Heaven Dogs, which were imported from China, guard each side of the entrance. In addition to the magnificent exterior, the Chinese Theatre is also known for the hundreds of footprints and handprints of Hollywood stars. As reported by Albom Adventures, it's a privilege to be invited to leave an imprint. The first print was created even before the Chinese Theatre officially opened, but not many know that the decades-long tradition started as an accident.

The first footprint at the Chinese Theatre

Construction of the Chinese Theatre was still ongoing in 1927 when Norma Talmadge (pictured above) visited her friend, Sid Grauman, at the site. Talmadge was a silent film actress and was considered one of the biggest stars during the Golden Age of Hollywood. During her visit, Talmadge accidentally stepped on wet cement and left an imprint, per the Los Angeles Times. This gave Grauman the idea of getting his celebrity friends to leave their prints on cement as a way to promote the new theater.

Grauman invited his business partners and friends, movie stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, to leave prints of their hands and feet on wet cement, and he also left his own, as reported by AP News. The growing collection of imprints was formally named the Forecourt of the Stars. Apart from the footprints and handprints, some celebrities also left short messages to congratulate Grauman. Others left imprints of other body parts, such as Jimmy Durante and Jackie Chan, who both pressed their noses onto the wet cement. Marilyn Monroe left a rhinestone earring to dot the "i" in her name, but unfortunately, it was pried off the cement by a fan just days later.

Who gets to leave their imprints at the Chinese Theatre?

Only chosen celebrities are given the honor of leaving their mark at the Forecourt of the Stars. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, a committee is responsible for choosing the stars to invite, but no further details regarding the selection process have been revealed. Representatives from the theater only disclosed that those who have made an impact on the film industry are typically the ones honored. And the list of honorees isn't limited to actors and actresses. It also includes producers, athletes, singers, and even animals.

Hundreds of handprints and footprints have been created since the Chinese Theatre opened, and because there is limited space, not all cement slabs are displayed at all times. There are instances when slabs are removed and kept in storage, while others may be temporarily removed for cleaning or repairs. In 1968, the Chinese Theatre was declared a cultural and historic landmark, and millions of people flock to the site each year to view and take pictures of the imprints left by those who have made a lasting impression in the entertainment industry (via The Legacy Lab).