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The Wax Figures of Grauman’s Chinese

April 19th, 2014 by ccrouch

Anyone who has visited Grauman’s Chinese has surely taken notice of the wax figures which stand watch at the theatre. If you’ve taken the official tour, you may have even been told of the many celebrities who have rubbed the figures’ sleeves for “good luck” and been afforded the opportunity to partake of the tradition yourself. However, few people realize the true historic nature of these figures (currently figure).


The origins of the figures date back to 1925, when Sid Grauman commissioned a series of works from the Stubergh Manufacturing Company. The Stuberghs, who were personal friends of Grauman’s from his years in San Francisco, were a family of renowned wax artists who had made their name as one of the first manufacturers of retail store mannequins. Their initial work for Grauman entailed creating figures of movie stars, to be displayed at the Egyptian Theatre, and a few pieces utilized in some of Sid’s infamous pranks. Then, in 1926, a series of Chinese figures (described at the time as “common Orientals”) were commissioned, as promotional pieces, for Grauman’s soon to open masterpiece.

male wax figure

Originally consisting of both genders, the 5’3” figures were dressed in ornate ethnic costuming and situated throughout the lobby, as if they were theatre attendants. According to an account by the late theatre historian, Terry Helgesen, some of the figures were even partially animated, with motorized arms that moved “as if smoking opium or fanning”. The lifelike nature of this early display was such that stories abounded of theatre patrons attempting to strike up conversations with the wax figures, only to skulk away embarrassed, as they realized their error.

auctioned figure

In time, an ever shrinking number of figures were relegated to less realistic, roped off, display positions and the purported animated versions vanished all together (as did the male figures). After deteriorating, due to age and public handling, the original costuming was replaced by far less grand Chinese themed clothing. By 2000, only two of the figures remained on display, with a third, damaged figure, housed in the basement. The damaged figure and one of the displayed figures were auctioned off in December of 2013, leaving only a single Stubergh figure in place; now, among the last original floor pieces still in use at the theatre.

As for the figure’s creators, Madam Katherine Stubergh and her daughter, Katherine Marie, went on to great fame throughout the twentieth century. Due, in part, to their Grauman Hollywood connection, the Struberghs’ work was featured in numerous motion pictures (the wax figures in 1953’s “House of Wax” being the most famous example) and having one’s likeness reproduced as a “Stubergh” became a status marker among the celebrity elite (Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s bronze memorial plaque was modeled by the Stuberghs). Later works included the famous “Last Supper” scene, on display in Santa Cruz, California, and a great many of the original figures in the Hollywood Wax Museum.  


So, the next time you find yourself at the Chinese Theatre, be sure to take a moment to appreciate that worn figure standing watch in the corner.      

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The Venerable Brookhurst Is No More

March 9th, 2014 by ccrouch

Anaheim’s Brookhurst and Brookhurst Loge Theatres were razed on 2/27/14 .

Brookhurst lot

Given the numerous struggles the site had experienced in recent decades, this news was seemingly long overdue. Yet, there remains a sense of shock and sadness in seeing the inevitable come to pass. From the glory days, as one of Orange County’s premiere single screens, to declining fortunes, as a poorly subdivided quad, the Brookhurst stood as a tangible marker of shared memories for over half a century. And now, only the memories remain.

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Two Views of the Oscars 70 Years Apart

March 4th, 2014 by ccrouch

The Academy Awards when they were held at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (host of the ceremony from 1944 to 1946).

Academy Awards At Graumans

Some seven decades later, the 86th Academy Awards go about the far less glamorous routine of post ceremony cleanup outside the Dolby Theatre (directly behind the Chinese).

86th academy awards cleanup

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Sid at the Oscars

March 2nd, 2014 by ccrouch

In recognition of this evening’s 86th Academy Awards ceremony, here is a picture of Sid Grauman being awarded his honorary Oscar for “raising the standard for film exhibition of motion pictures” at the 21st Academy Awards, held on March 24, 1949 (roughly a year before his death on March 5, 1950).

grauman oscar

In addition to being an Oscar recipient, Mr. Grauman was also one of the founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; having been one of the 36 industry figures invited to a founding banquet, held at the Ambassador Hotel, on January 11, 1927. Initially named the International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the “international” was dropped when the organization officially filed for incorporation, on May 4, 1927.

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Happy Holidays

December 25th, 2013 by ccrouch

Merry Christmas

Sid Grauman in the Chinese Theatre forecourt (photo courtesy of Jefferey Hawkins).

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Cinema Oddities: Double Movie

December 12th, 2013 by ccrouch

From 1939, this peculiar invention split images on screen, via a rotating shutter disk, which alternated between an opening and mirror; the opening projecting a frame of film in a traditional fashion, the mirror reflecting a frame to a moveable secondary mirror and on to a specific area of the screen (controlled by the projectionist). Aside from a one-off novelty screening, the idea never found a market and slipped in to the realm of cinema oddities.

Double Image

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West Coast Theatre For Sale

November 24th, 2013 by ccrouch

One of Orange County’s “golden age” theatres has hit the market, as Santa Ana’s West Coast Theatre was recently listed for $1,980,000.

West Coast Theatre

Considering that the West Coast has retained its’ theatre layout (avoiding the dreaded butchering of “re-purposing”) and been well maintained by a long term church tenant, one can certainly hope this special gem finds a new owner with the vision for a return to the glory days of an Orange County classic.

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Old Fashion Disruption

November 21st, 2013 by ccrouch

The glowing screens and electronic chirp of cell phones are a uniquely modern disruption to the movie going experience. However, as this cinema slide (circa 1915) illustrates, theatre patrons of a century ago faced their own unique disruption.

hat slide

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Exotic Adventure At The Fox West Coast

October 11th, 2013 by ccrouch

Today’s picture captures Santa Ana’s Fox West Coast Theatre decorated for the 1934 adventure film “Wild Cargo”.

Fox West Coast

A pseudo documentary, “Wild Cargo” depicted exotic animal trapping by big game hunter/celebrity Frank “Bring Em’ Back Alive” Buck. In reality, the harrowing adventure was shot, under highly controlled and staged circumstances, on the Malayan estate of the Sultan of Johor (one of the world’s wealthiest men at the time).

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Grauman Estate Auction

August 14th, 2013 by ccrouch

I’ve been conducting research for a pending post on the last years of Sid Grauman’s life. Among the interesting items I have run across is this 1950 newspaper advertisement for his estate auction. 

Grauman Auction

While I’m sure a great many of his former belongings are long vanished or forever separated from their history, one can’t help but wonder where some of these items now reside.

An interesting side note/warning for memorabilia collectors: In a 1950 court deposition, it came to light that Sid Grauman very rarely wrote his own correspondence or even personally signed much of anything; the bulk of such output actually came from the hand of his personal assistant, Gertrude Skall. According to Ms. Skall, “about the only thing he ever wrote was an autograph and that only on a picture for someone particularly close to him.”

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