After 85 years, the world’s most famous movie theater will finally be living up to its name.
Chinese TV maker TCL has paid more than $5 million for the naming rights to the venerable Grauman’s Chinese Theatre opened in 1927 by showman Sid Grauman.
The Hollywood Boulevard landmark will now be called the TCL Chinese Theatre, helping the Chinese company raise its profile. The theater is used almost weekly for red-carpet premieres, and draws nearly 4 million visitors a year.
“This is one of the landmarks of North America,” said Hao Yi, vice president of TCL Group. “It can be a bridge to link the cultures of China and North America.”
Indeed, the deal spotlights the growing ties between Hollywood and its most important overseas movie market. Major studios have cut billion-dollar deals to build theme parks and production facilities in China, which last year surpassed Japan as the largest foreign market for U.S. films.
At the same time, Chinese investors are acquiring high-profile American entertainment assets.
In September, China’s Dalian Wanda Group bought AMC Entertainment, the nation’s second largest theater chain, for $2.6 billion. Another Chinese company partnered with an Indian corporation to acquire Digital Domain, the special effects company co-founded by filmmaker James Cameron.
Declared a historic and cultural landmark in 1968, the single-screen Grauman’s is known for its giant red Chinese pagoda and 30-foot-tall Chinese dragon — and the cement foot- and handprints of cinema’s most famous stars.
The theater’s cultural links to China date back to its origins.
During construction, permission had to be obtained from the U.S. government to import temple bells, pagodas, stone Heaven Dogs and other artifacts from China. Construction of the $2-million theater was overseen by Chinese poet and film director Moon Quon, who supervised a team of Chinese artisans, according to the Grauman’s website.
Hollywood showman Sid Grauman and partners that included silent screen stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks financed construction of the theater, which opened with the premiere of Cecil B. DeMille’s film “The King of Kings.”
TCL is not the first name change for Grauman’s. For nearly three decades it was known as Mann’s Chinese Theatre after Ted Mann, owner of an Encino-based theater chain, bought the cinema house in 1973. Warner and Viacom acquired the theater after the Mann chain filed for bankruptcy.
During the 1940s Grauman’s hosted the Academy Awards ceremonies. The site has been used for numerous high-profile premieres, from “The Wizard of Oz” in 1939 to “Gangster Squad” last Monday. Actress Myrna Loy was among the first to memorialize her handprints in Grauman’s cement. The cast members of “Twilight” were among the most recent.
“Sid Grauman was a showman,” said Donald Kushner, who currently owns the theater with Elie Samaha. “We’re trying to bring showmanship back to theater.”
By putting its own footprint on Hollywood’s best-known landmark, TCL hopes to expand its presence in the U.S., where the world’s fourth largest manufacturer of flat panel television sets is relatively unknown. TCL has previously done product placement deals and marketing promotions on such movies as “The Avengers” and “Transformers.”
The 10-year licensing deal will help fund improvements to the 85-year-old property. TCL has also agreed to sponsor a national and international campaign to promote Hollywood and its most famous theater.
The naming rights deal, to be announced Friday, comes 18 months after Samaha and Kushner acquired the theater. The previous co-owners were Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures’ parent Viacom Inc.
“This is a monumental day,” Samaha and Kushner said in a statement. “The milestone relationship between TCL and the Chinese Theatre will allow us to do many of the upgrades and the preservation projects we earmarked.”
Planned improvements include a new extra-wide screen, stadium seating, superior sound and projection systems, and a new box-office marquee on Hollywood Boulevard.
Kushner and Samaha selected TCL from a list of prospective corporate sponsors culled by Premier Partnerships, the L.A.-based sports and entertainment sales firm that brokered the naming rights last year for the Chinese Theatre’s Hollywood and Highland Center neighbor — the Dolby Theatre, formerly the Kodak Theatre.
Some of TCL’s technology, including large LED screens and digital signs, will be featured in the movie palace.
Times staff writer Hugo Martin contributed to this report.