90 years ago today, the first Hollywood Premiere took place at the newly constructed Egyptian Theater on Hollywood boulevard. Built by master showman Sid Grauman along with real estate developer Charles E. Toberman, the Egyptian became the first true Movie Palace on Hollywood boulevard beating out the much more known Chinese theater which didn’t open in 1927.
The movie that night was the Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckling silent ROBIN HOOD. The movie played exclusively in Los Angeles at the Egyptian for that year. Imagine the first red carpet star-studded movie premiere with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford in attendance. Since then of course Hollywood Boulevard has been shut down for many such openings but this was the one that started the trend of opening a movie as a big event.
The Egyptian has gone through several renovations over the years – particularly in the 40s and 50s when movies started to feel the heat from television. United Artists once owned the theater until it closed in 1992 until the American Cinematheque purchased it from the city for $1 with the promise of renovating it back to its original glory – which they indeed have done and it re-opened in December of 1998.
When I first moved to L.A. in 1994, I was apartment hunting in Hollywood (and eventually settled at Sycamore and Hollywood around the corner from the Chinese and a few blocks down from the Egyptian) and went walking down Hollywood boulevard. I had a guidebook that outlined all the historical movie spots along the street and stopping at the Egyptian was sad to see it boarded up in complete disrepair. It did have a cool original model of an Alien from the original ALIEN in the window, but the notice on the boards noted that the building was unsafe thanks to the Northridge Earthquake which had occurred a few months prior. While walking away a homeless youth was going to the bathroom openly in a potted plant on the sidewalk, and while doing so reached out with the other hand and asked for change. That was my first experience at the Egyptian theater.
Back then the entire stretch of Hollywood Boulevard was in a state of disrepair. The tourist spots seemed tacky and unkempt with the only bright spot being the Chinese theater. The shops were all badly run souvenir shops with over-priced junk. However the area has been cleaned up dramatically over the past 10 or 13 years with plenty of shops, restaurants and theaters and of course the Hollywood and Highland complex which houses the DOLBY (formerly KODAK) theater, home to the Academy Awards. It seems that all this started with the Cinematheque’s renovation of the Egyptian with that once boarded up courtyard now a thriving and beautifully restored area in the middle of the world of Entertainment.
I remember going to the Egyptian shortly after the renovation as Dreamworks’ brand new animated feature PRINCE OF EGYPT (fitting, right?) was having a limited run there. The theater had re-opened with a screening of Cecil B. Demille’s 1923 silent version of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS exactly 75 years to the day that it premiered at the Egyptian which I somehow missed and am kicking myself for it.
My first Cinematheque program was in 1999 when I went with a co-worker and someone that was involved in the making of THE MATRIX to the 1957 Anthony Mann movie MEN IN WAR. I was hooked. I lived so close to the Egyptian and loved the atmosphere and presentation that I became a member immediately. I have been to several great screenings at the Egyptian since including the annual Film Noir festival, a John Carpenter retrospective, movies like 2001, SPARTACUS and BARRY LYNDON in 70mm, the Director’s cut of SUPERMAN (then got in the car and drove to Vegas immediately after) and a screening of CHICAGO where several MGM classic Musical stars were in attendance (including Mickey Rooney who started yelling from the back about how excited he was to see a Musical on the big screen and CHICAGO director Rob Marshall doing a post-film Q&A couldn’t get a word in).
To celebrate the anniversary of this great movie palace, the Cinematheque is throwing a grand party starting tonight with a screening of that original ROBIN HOOD from 1922. Imagine, 90 years ago today in that exact theater, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks sat among the crowd for what would become a rite of passage for every film that followed – the star-studded Hollywood Premiere.
Saturday however is when things really get exciting. The Cinematheque is throwing a Masquerade Ball complete with food, vintage films, drinks and plenty of Entertainment to truly celebrate the event in style. Tickets are on the verge of selling out proving that there is still a hunger and excitement for Hollywood History. Proving that not everyone wants to watch LAWRENCE OF ARABIA on their smartphone.
A couple of other key events in the Egyptian’s history:
In 1926 one of my favorite movies from the silent period, THE BIG PARADE had its premiere at the Egyptian.
In 1959, the Academy award winning epic BEN-HUR ran for a full 2 years at the Egyptian theater, something that would never happen with movies of today.
In 1968, Columbia pictures threw what was to be the last star-studded premiere at the Egyptian with FUNNY GIRL.
That is of course until the Cinematheque took over and there have been several new ones since then including STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS.
If this is how they do things for the 90th, just wait until 10 years from now when the theater turns 100. I for sure will be in attendance then.
Information about the Cinematheque Masquerade Ball and events at the Egyptian theater can be found HERE.