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World’s most famous movie house turns 90

LOS ANGELES

Shirley Temple did it barefoot. Mel Brooks wore an extra finger. Whoopi Goldberg buried her dreadlocks. Steve McQueen and actress wife Ali MacGraw did it facing the wrong way.

An old aphorism says that to visit Los Angeles and not see the iconic hand and foot prints of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the imposing courtyard of the TCL Chinese Theatre is like going to the Middle Kingdom and not walking The Great Wall.

On Thursday, the world’s most famous picture house celebrates 90 years at the epicenter of the movie business, the venue of many of Tinseltown’s most glamorous showbiz moments through 16 presidents, a world war and three huge earthquakes.

The night before, veteran filmmaker Ridley Scott becomes the 304th star to sink his hands and feet into the cement squares in the theater’s forecourt — maintaining a tradition celebrated by Hollywood’s finest, from Mary Pickford through John Wayne and Sophia Loren to Jack Nicholson and Brad Pitt.

“It’s a real honour to get placed out in the forecourt and when you look at the people we have out there, going back now nine decades, it’s incredible,” Levi Tinker, resident historian at the Chinese, said.

“You have some of the biggest, brightest, most iconic names in Hollywood history.”

It all started when movie theater impresario Sid Grauman  leased the former home of matinee idol Francis X. Bushman and opened the Chinese on May 18 in 1927 after raising $2 million.

Silent screen star Norma Talmadge clumsily stepped into wet cement on the construction site, witnessed by Grauman who shrugged off her embarrassed apologies and said he would use the footprint to promote the opening.  Stars have since seen the ceremonies as a career highlight, often going to a great lengths to ensure their square stands out from the crowd.

Shirley Temple, the youngest honoree in 1935 at just five years old, appeared barefoot, quickly deciding it was a good way to distract the press from the fact that one of her baby teeth had just fallen out.

Marilyn Monroe wanted to dot her ‘i’ with a diamond before being persuaded that the precious stone would probably be stolen.

More recently, Mel Brooks concealed until the last minute that one of his hands had a fake sixth finger.

“You think after all this time there would be hardly any room. But there’s enough space out there to go on for a number of years still,” said Tinker, although he added that some big names were missing.

Audrey Hepburn was among the few to decline, while James Dean was readying to lay his prints in the presence of “Giant” co-stars Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor when he was killed in a car crash at the age of 24.

Agence France-Presse