We’re talking all about haunted Hollywood theatres in this episode. From the history of the TCL Chinese Theatre to the ghosts of the Vogue Theatre we’ve got some crazy tales!
Join your friendly neighbourhood #Dicks as they dick-tect the stories behind these spooky places for movie lovers! You might want to stop by one of them on your next trip to Los Angeles.
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Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre has been a staple in the Hollywood scene for years. Sid Grauman was a Los Angeles-area entrepreneur and in 1918 he created “Million Dollar Theatre” in downtown Los Angeles.
Impressed with his own business acumen, four years later he decided to open the “exotic” Egyptian Theatre complete with palm and lotus motifs in Hollywood. Going off of the success of that he thought what the hell and decided to continue on his theatre building endeavour with the Chinese Theatre.
History of TCL Chinese theatre
In 1925, Grauman partnered with Hollywood elite Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford (whom he also partnered on the Roosevelt Hotel with) along with Howard Schreck to build the Chinese-themed theatre on the North side of Hollywood Boulevard across the street from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, two blocks from the Egyptian Theatre.
The theatre entrance was 90 feet high and “look like a giant red pagoda” with a 30-foot stone dragon and two sculptures referred to as “Heaven’s Dogs” that guarded the door. Inside, the theatre features “actual artifacts” of Chinese descent including temple bells and small pagodas.
The theatre cost a whopping $2-million to build ($28.7 million today). A private opening was held May 18, 1927, with a silent screening of The King of Kings followed by a live showing of Glories of the Scriptures accompanied by “a Wurlitzer organ and 65 piece orchestra.” And the theatre officially opened to the public on May 19.
Headed to Hollywood? Check out the audio walking tour we did with our favourite audio tour group, Tripvia Tours. The Lost Souls of Hollywood Boulevard is a self-guided audio tour hosted by yours truly where we walk you down Hollywood Blvd and share our favourite ghost stories. Check it out here!
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was the host to the Academy Awards ceremonies from 1944 to 1946 and was declared a historic landmark in 1968. Today, the theatre sees more than 4 million visitors from all around the world per year.
It’s known for the very famous foot and handprints pressed into the cement outside of the theatre entrance — as legend would have it, Grauman accidentally stepped in the drying concrete during construction and came to the conclusion that if there were famous prints in the concrete people might actually come to see them. He was correct. The first official handprints were of Mary Pickford on April 30, 1927, and that same year eight other celebrities, including Harold Lloyd, William S. Hart and Gloria Swanson, joined her. Over the years more than 200 celebrities have followed suit. And it’s not only foot and handprints but other famous features such as Harold Lloyd’s eyeglasses, George Burns cigar and Bob Hope and Jimmy Durante’s noseprints.
In 1929, Grauman sold his shares in the theatre to William Fox who owned Fox West Coast Theatres but stayed on as the theatre’s managing director until his death in 1950. The theatre was purchased by Ted Mann in 1973, who named in Mann’s Chinese theatre until went bankrupt in 2001. It was then purchased by a conglomerate owned by Warner Bros. and Paramount in 2001, who renamed it Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, then in 2013, TCL Corporation purchased the naming rights and today it is known as TCL Chinese Theatre. The main auditorium was redesigned as the biggest iMax (on the West coast we think).
Ghosts at the TCL Chinese Theatre
Victor Kilian was an American actor born in 1891 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He debuted on Boradway at 18 in The Good Fellow. He started to get some small movie roles in New York City and in 1935, he moved to the West Coast to start working in talking pictures, typically playing minor roles (think: sheriff and bartender). Over his first 10 years, he appeared in almost 50 films (though some of his roles were so small that his character didn’t have a name), then between 1942 and 1950 he appeared in 46 films. And in 1942, while filming Reap the Wild Win, Kilian was blinded in one eye during an on-set accident.
But his career came to a screeching halt in 1950 when the Hollywood Blacklist came out during the McCarthy Congressional hearings. The Hollywood Blacklist, for those that don’t know, is a list of people in Hollywood that were thought to have communist ties. He appeared in a mere five films in 1951, and was never on the screen again. During his career, he was in 127 films in total. He appeared back on Broadway from 1957 to 1961. And once the Blacklist era was over he appeared again in Hollywood on television shows including Gunsmoke, The Brady Bunch and All in the Family. He had a wife, Daisy Johnson, who died in 1961 she would have been in her mid-40s, and a son, Victor, Jr. who was briefly a child actor who passed away in 1981, he would have been in his mid-60s.
On March 11, 1979, Victor was living alone in “a small set of rooms” in the Lido Apartments Yucca Street in Hollywood when one or more burglars broke in and beat him to death while robbing him, or at least that’s the “official” story.
The unofficial story says that Victor was at a bar near the Chinese Theatre when he met himself a nice fella who he invited back to his place. The pair left together (presumably walked by the Chinese Theatre) and went back to his place. A few hours later, Victor was dead.
Victor’s ghost is said to be roaming around the Chinese Theatre as a “shadowy ghost” and has been there since 1982, but he’s not the only ghost that’s lurking around the area.
Staff of the theatre have reported that the lower corner of the main screen “flutters” when the theatre is closed (like someone or thing is moving behind it). Others have reported hearing “unusual, unidentifiable sounds” from behind the screen. They tend to call this ghost Fritz, who was known to be a “troubled worker” of the venue who hanged himself behind the screen shortly after the theatre opened.
There are also reports of flickering lights and strange sounds in the employee dressing room. Along with “unidentified shapes” falling from the ceiling of the employee room, but they disappear before hitting the ground. The ladies room in the basement of the theatre is a place where staff and guests don’t like to go due to an “invisible, foreboding presence.”
Side note: unrelated (but sort of related) murder
Victor Kilian was not the only star to did while entertaining guests at his home. Ramon Novarro, the silent screen’s most romantic leading man, met a similar fate.
Jose Ramon Gil Samaniego was born in 1899 in Durango, Mexico. He fled Mexico in 1916 during the Mexican Revolution and started acting (small time) in 1917. His first major role was in 1922 in The Prisoner of Zenda. He was tied for silent screen hunk with Italian actor Rudolph Valentino and the studios tried to pit the two against each other publicly, but they became fast friends. Sadly, Valentino passed away suddenly of appendicitis and gastric ulcers at the age of 31 on August 23, 1926.\
By 1935, his heartthrob status was dwindling and Ramon started to work more sporadically taking smaller and smaller roles. And unbeknownst to a lot of people, Ramon was also gay.
On October 30, 1968, he met himself two fellas Paul Ferguson, 22, and his 17-year-old brother Tom (eek… not super legal), and invited them back to his home in Laurel Canyon. According to their testimony, they went back to his house because they figured he kept large amounts of cash around it (most certainly not for any funny business ????) and began to beat him to get the information out of him. Ramon fought back and there were clear signs of a struggle and blood all over the house, the pair fled eventually with $20 they found in a bathrobe, leaving Ramon to die alone on the floor of his master bath. It was described to be particularly brutal “choking to death in a pool of his own blood.” He was 69 when he died.
Paul and Tom spent a little bit of time in jail, but were clearly out by 1989, when Paul was again arrested, this time for raping a woman in Missouri. Ramon’s ghost is said to be hanging out in his former mansion.
According to legend, on the lot of what was formerly the Vogue Theatre, on Hollywood Avenue formerly Prospect Avenue) there was a four-room schoolhouse called Prospect Elementary. In 1901, the schoolhouse caught fire trapping Miss Elizabeth, the school’s teacher, and her 25 students inside. Everyone perished. A few years later, a textile factory was erected in its place, but it too burned down a short while later.
The Vogue theatre was opened on July 16, 1936. Located at 6675 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, it was more modest than the Grauman-built Chinese and Egyptian theatres that took residence on the same block, designed to house only 800 patrons. There was no fancy courtyard, only a traditional catwalk overhang on the sidewalk and a small lobby inside.
The Vogue theatre is known to house at least two ghosts. The first is a man who committed suicide on the balcony, and the other a former theatre manager who died. The theatre manager’s face is said to “appear in a high window behind the ticket booth in the alcove or outside lobby under the marquee” — eventually, the glass of the window was covered because he scared too many moviegoers.
International Society for Paranormal Research
The Vogue Theatre “became rather seedy” as the fortunes of Hollywood declined in the 1970s, and became a second rate theatre house compared to the Chinese Theatre and the Cinerama Dome. In 1992, it closed its doors and remained vacant for five years until 1997, when the International Society for Paranormal Research was looking for new headquarters and to hold seminars.
The ISPR was founded in 1972, in Los Angeles, to take paranormal research out of the lab — they moved to New Orleans for six years to conduct a paranormal study where they allowed novices to take part in investigations called “Ghost Expeditions.” In 1997, the moved into the Vogue Theatre, making it their headquarters, and was surprised to see that it was a hotbed for paranormal activity and started a study.
The ISPR began to gather staff stories and heard over 4,000 first-person accounts of paranormal activity. On one occasion during a screening 35 out of 600 moviegoers saw a little girl skipping rope up and down an aisle, many of which complained to management.
They also found that objects were known to move on their own, theatre seats lifted up and down on their own, “yellow orbs of light appeared in photographs,” and unusual and unidentifiable noises were heard in the auditorium. On rare occasions, manifestations of ghosts were said to appear, sometimes as full appirations, other times partial. One time a male apparition even shoved a festival patron to one side of the staircase on the balcony.
The ISPR found nine separate entities — six children who died in the fire (Annabelle, known to be the chattiest, Jennifer, two Michaels and fraternal twins Peter and Pamela), and three adults, Miss Elizabeth, and two men from the 1980s, Danny who was occasionally employed be the theatre as a maintenance man whi died in the 30s of a drug overdose, and Fritz, who was a German immigrant.
Note that this story varies from the earlier one about Fritz, but according to the ISPR, he was a projectionist of 40 years from the opening of the theatre in 1936 who died of natural causes at his post in the projection booth during a matinee screening. Fritz is said to be a low-key ghost, unless someone wasn’t doing their job or patrons started to damage or abuse the theatre. He was known to lend a hand around the theatre after his death and help out.
In 2001, the ISPR was winding down their research and wanted to expel the remainingg seven ghosts (they said the “helped the twins move in” in 1998). On December 23, 2001, after a “cleansing ceremony” the building was ghostless, supposedly.
All of that is fine and dandy, but a fact check done later revealed that there was no schoolhouse ever on the site, let alone one that burned down. Six blocks east at Prospect (now Hollywood) and Ivar, in 1901, there was a fire in a schoolhouse where 37 children perished, but there was no teacher Miss Elizabeth but the school was never fully destroyed. Then, there was another school a mile further East, Los Feliz School, that was destroyed by a fire in 1914, perhaps by arson but the facts also don’t match.
In 2010, the interior of the Vogue Theatre was redone. It now serves as “suppertime Los Angeles” a nightclub which is part of an Amsterdam-based franchise.
Warner Bros. Pictures was in financial trouble when Sam Warner convinced his brothers that the future was talking pictures. And the Pacific Theatre on Hollywood Pond was going to be their flagship theatre, premiering their latest feature-length talking picture The Jazz Singer.
The Warner Brothers, Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack, were the sons of Polish Jewish immigrants. They were four out of 11 children who grew up in Baltimore and Ontario, Canada before settling in Youngstown, Ohio.
Sam was the first to entre show business when he rented Youngstown’s Grand Opera House to present a summer season of vaudeville and kinescopes. And after working as a projectionist, Sam convinced the Warner family to help him purchase a Kinetoscope projector.
He and Albert took their new Kinetoscope and hit the carnival and fair circuit to show The Greatest Train Robbery, and one season of tickets helped convince their brother Robert that the future was in film. Sometime before 1907, the three Warner brothers converted an old building in Newcastle, Pennsylvania, which was 17 miles from their hometown of Youngstown, into the cascade Movie palace, which still stands today.
They quickly expanded their business and got into the film distribution game, and in 1907, they relocated to Pittsburg opening the Duquesne Amusement company. Shortly thereafter, they opened a branch in Norfolk Virginia, which is when this is when Jack joined his three brothers.
Three years later in 1910, the Warner brothers decided they also needed to add creating films to their growing empire and helped finance Carl Laemmle and his Independent Motion Picture Company. In 1912, they decided to go it on their own and created Warner Features. Harry and Albert stayed in New York City to manage east coast operations, Jack moved to San Francisco, and Sam headed to Hollywood.
Warner Features’ first film was in 1918, it was based on an anti-war novel and was called My Four Years in Germany. In Los Angeles, Warner Features first opened up a production office in Culver City, then moved to Sunset Boulevard in 1919 (though the current Warner Bros. studio is located in Burbank at the Old First National Studios lot). And, on April 4, 1923, they officially became Warner Bros. Pictures Inc.
In 1925, Sam came up with synchronized sound using technology developed by Western Electric’s Bell Laboratories. At first, Harry the eldest brother rejected the idea, but eventually conceded to try the technology out on a few short films, but only for the sound effects and music, no voice. They produced eight shorts to be shown in front of silent feature Don Juan in 1926, and though they attracted attention Don Juan was a failure and the studio almost went bankrupt.
Sam, however, was not deterred. He was determined to produce The Jazz Singer. Though the plan was to create a silent film with musical sequences where the audience would hear the actors sing — spoiler alert, this film was what established Warner Bros. Pictures as a Hollywood film power and talking pictures as a must-have in the film world. But to release the film, Sam needed to get their Los Angeles theatre ready.
He hired G. Albert Lansburgh who had built Orpheum Theatre in downtown LA and Wiltern Theatre on Wiltshire Blvd to build an auditorium inside a four-storey office tower. The theatre had “glorious decor” that was described as a real “potpourri of styles” including Renaissance Revival, Rocco, Spanish Baroque and Moorish, with garden landscapes separated by Italian archways. The theatre had an auditorium with 2,756 seats and its trademark twin radio towers that would later become its icon.
But the building of the theatre was not going smoothly. They faced construction and equipment delays and Sam was there around the clock, skipping meals and sleep, and going hard on the crews. The closer opening day came, the more it appeared that the theatre would not be ready. And eventually, with much dismay to Sam, they moved premier to Warner Theatre in Manhattan.
Then, right before the premiere, Sam’s health became a serious issue. He started getting nosebleeds, incapacitating headaches and dizzying Vertigo. He was suffering from a severe sinus infection and in a time before antibiotics, it had developed into an acute mastoid infection.
The Jazz Singer opened on schedule on October 6, 1927, at their Manhatten theatre, changing Hollywood forever. But, the day before Sam Warner suffered a cerebral hemorrhage during an operation to remove his diseased brain cells and died at 40 years old.
The Warner Brothers Theatre in Los Angeles opened six months later, showing a minor film, Glorious Betsy on April 26, 1928. For Years it was a go-to Hollywood theatre showing classics. Warner Cinerama Theatre played for 133 weeks between 1953 and 1964, How the West Was Won plated for 93 weeks and 2001: A Space Odyssey played for 80 weeks. In 1978, Pacific Theatres purchased it they broke it into three smaller theatres with the largest having 1,250 seats in the main auditorium.
Ever since the opening of the theatre, patrons have reported seeing a “frustrated ghost pacing back and forth in the lobby” who is said to have cursed the theatre. In the 1970s, two members of the cleaning crew at night saw a phantom walk the “entire length of the foyer” before stopping to push the elevator call button and get on when the doors opened.
And, before the elevator was put out of operation in 1994, due to the earthquake, it was described as having a mind of its own due to its changing floors without being called. Sam’s ghost is also said to be hanging out in his old office, staff report hearing footsteps, chairs moving and doors slamming.On August 15, 1994, the theatre was closed for good due to both the 1994 earthquake and the fact that the Los Angeles subway system was now running underneath and caused a sound that could often be heard by theatre patrons.
Did you love this episode? Check these other haunted Hollywood hot spots:
- Go for a tour with us down Hollywood Blvd with our Lost Souls of Hollywood Blvd tour.
- The early years at the Cecil Hotel: Before Elisa Lam, there was a whole host of tragedy at this infamous hotel.
- Haunted Hotel Cecil in Los Angeles: We’re talking about the tragic and mysterious death of Elisa Lam.
- Getting it on in Griffith Park (with Ghosts): This famous park in Los Angeles is definitely supposed to have ghosts, let’s chat about them!
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