Archive for August 1, 2014

Grauman’s Chinese Theater of Cruelty

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2014 by dcairns

sidg

Sid Grauman immortalizes the already-immortal Gene Tierney.

Like Gary Oldman, I’ve been reading Neal Gabler’s excellent An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, though possibly I have been drawing different conclusions from it. Attentive readers may recall me picking the tome up in one of Toronto’s many excellent bookstores. Being shallow, I am partly in it for the history but also for the funny stories. This one also contains a whiff of the horrific, so beware ~

Gabler’s study of Louis B Mayer also features quick portraits of the major exhibitors, including a vivid, even (necessarily) lurid description of Sid Grauman (he of the Chinese Theater) ~

“Like Roxy, Grauman loved size; his theaters were always capacious. But he was less a culture monger than a showman; where Roxy wore conservative suits to maintain an image of dignity, Grauman wore large hats rakishly tilted and parted his long curly hair down the middle, sweeping it back at the sides so that he looked as if he had stuck his finger in an electric socket. Throughout Hollywood he was famous for his elaborate pranks: convincing Paramount cowboy star William S. Hart to “ambush” a train Adolph Zukor was riding; inducing Jesse Lasky to give a speech to a group of exhibitors who turned out to be wax dummies; arriving at the cornerstone-laying ceremony of a rival theater in a hearse; dressing as a female escort to visiting star David Warfield and then crying, “Rape!” When he heard that director Ernst Lubitsch, who hated to fly, was forced to take a plane from Los Angeles to a preview in San Francisco, he hired two stuntmen to dress as pilots, run down the aisle, and then parachute during the flight. Lubitsch was so shaken that he suffered a minor heart attack.”

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Here is a picture of Lubitsch, much later, receiving a lifetime achievement Oscar. You’ll notice he doesn’t look that happy about it — the smile is sickly. That’s because he’s having an attack of angina at the same time. The two experiences don’t mix well. Lubitsch’s too-early death was no doubt greatly exacerbated by his cigar habit, and it was a post-coital attack that finally did him in, but I cannot think that Sid Grauman’s sense of humour helped. At least Lubitsch enjoyed his other causes of death.

Thanks a lot, Sid.

I’ve just written two essays on Lubitsch films, which can be pre-ordered as part of THIS —

MADAME DUBARRY [Masters of Cinema] (1919) [Blu-ray]

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