Grauman's Chinese Theatre to be sold to movie producers
A partnership between Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures parent Viacom Inc. has signed an agreement to sell the historic theater on Hollywood Boulevard for an undisclosed sum to a pair of movie producers: Don Kushner, executive producer of "Tron: Legacy," and the flamboyant and controversial entrepreneur Elie Samaha, two people familiar with the deal said Thursday.
The sale, which is scheduled to close May 20, also includes the operating lease of the Mann's Chinese 6 multiplex, located in the adjacent Hollywood and Highland retail mall.
The single-screen Grauman's -- known for its giant, red Chinese pagoda, signature Chinese dragon guard dogs at the entrance and cement block footprints and hand prints of famous Hollywood figures -- was declared a historic and cultural landmark in 1968.
Neither Samaha nor Kushner were immediately available to discuss their plans for the theater, but one person familiar with the matter said the theater will continue to screen movies and host premieres and that the new owners plan to upgrade food and beverage services.
The sale involves the Grauman's building only and not the land the theater sits on, which in 2007 was sold to the CIM Group, which owns the Hollywood and Highland complex and other commercial properties in Hollywood.
Representatives of Warner, Viacom and Mann declined to comment on the pending sale.
Samaha, who has owned dry cleaners and nightclubs in Los Angeles, made waves more than a decade ago when he ventured into the movie business, producing such films as Bruce Willis' hit "The Whole Nine Yards" and John Travolta's box-office flop "Battlefield Earth."
But his business practices led to a high-profile legal battle with the German company Intertainment AG, which alleged in a fraud and racketeering lawsuit in 2000 that Franchise Pictures, the independent film company headed by Samaha, had made up inflated budgets for such movies as "Battlefield Earth." Samaha had denied any wrongdoing. Intertainment was awarded $122 million in damages, but was unable to collect the money and ultimately settled the complex legal brawl for $3 million.
Warner and Viacom have been trying to sell the historic theater for more than a year but had struggled to find a buyer.
Warner and Viacom acquired Grauman's Chinese Theatre in 2001 along with six other theaters owned by Encino-based Mann Theatres after the circuit declared bankruptcy in the face of rising competition from large theater chains.
Mann continues to operate theaters in Hollywood, Glendale, Van Nuys and Thousand Oaks.
Ted Mann, owner of the Mann chain, had purchased Grauman's Chinese in 1973; it then operated under the Mann name for nearly three decades.
Sid Grauman and partners that included silent screen stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks financed construction of the theater, which opened in 1927 with the premiere of Cecil B. DeMille's film "The King of Kings." Over the decades it has hosted several Academy Awards ceremonies and was used for scores of high-profile premieres, including George Lucas' "Star Wars" in 1977.
-- Richard Verrier
Photo: Actress Helen Mirren poses as she makes hand and footprints outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Credit: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson