The Walk of Fame is an iconic piece of Hollywood’s rich entertainment history. Stepping onto the walk, I found myself falling into the cliche routine that most people do, staring at the ground, pointing at stars’ names to a friend, nearly bumping into tourists and tripping over myself. I gawked at the celebrity impersonators, avoided the pamphlet wavers, and ducked past the off-putting characters in full-on Mickey Mouse suits. By the time I made it to Grauman’s Chinese Theater, I was overwhelmed with the dizzying energy that radiated from Hollywood Boulevard.
The Chinese Theater was always something I never really thought I’d see. It existed in Old Hollywood and movies. It didn’t feel like a real place at all until I was standing right in front of it. As our tour guide took us through the theater, he explained the architecture, showed us the costumes from all of our old favorites, and told us the backstory of the man the theater’s named for, Sid Grauman.
Sid Grauman is a name that I had never heard in my life before that day, and I couldn’t believe it. He created the Chinese and Egyptian Theaters, which are two staples of Hollywood history. He also seemed to have a fascination with the world outside of the U.S., both of his most famous theaters designed to emulate what people thought of as “exotic” at the time.
There is a problematic undercurrent within that, and although it could be seen as harmless celebration of other cultures, the question, “why?” permeates the thought. Cinema went through some interesting stages when it came to exoticizing other countries– they heavily played into stereotypes, and were vastly uneducated about the ramifications of their actions, especially in a world that constantly experiences the effects of colonialism.
However, I should note that Grauman did make efforts to make the art and architecture authentic. Chinese actor, Keye Luke painted the murals you immediately see as you enter the dimly-lit theater. And of course, you could also look at it as a means of escaping one’s reality and traveling to another world at the movies. If any theater has done that for me, it was the Chinese Theater.
When I think about the millions of people that have walked through this theater, I am stunned. It certainly made me pause and marvel at how far we’ve come, and I’m not even a huge fan of film or TV. Walking through the different rooms full of old costumes that such legendary people like Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe have worn puts the whole experience of living and studying in a place like Hollywood in a completely new perspective. Seeing the handprints outside did the same thing for me. This all happened. And it’s incredibly hard to wrap my head around, to be completely honest. Old Hollywood is something that seems so gilded and fabricated– something you might liken to a modern-day fairytale. It makes you think about what Hollywood will become 100 years from now. How it will change? What will people remember?