Grauman’s Chinese To Become Samaha’s Studio 54?

LA movie fanatics need to savor the Old Hollywood aura of Grauman’s Chinese theatre as much as they can between now and May 20th because after that date the notoriously oily Elie Samaha and his partner Don Kushner, the film and video-game producer (Tron: Legacy), will be transforming the legendary Chinese into a kind of mixed-venue Studio 54.

This is what I’ve been told by a source I spoke to this morning who’s closely affiliated with the Chinese and has been observing walk-throughs by Samaha and Kushner and their associates and overhearing conversations, etc.

The currently-unfolding TCM Classic Film Festival may turn out to be the last serious film-buff event ever held at the Chinese, he suspects, in view of what Samaha and Kushner have in mind.

The Hollywood Reporter‘s Daniel Miller reported last night that Samaha and Kushner are buying the theater and taking over the long-term lease of the adjacent Mann Chinese 6 megaplex from a joint venture of Warner Bros. and Viacom Inc. “for an undisclosed sum.”

Miller quoted real-estate broker John Tronson as saying that the “new owners are exploring ways to maximize ‘the real estate opportunity…they could do a lot of other things there that would drive people who come and visit and see it.”

The HE source is a regular reader and serious Movie Catholic who regards the coming Samaha-Kushner transformation of the Chinese as a vulgarization of a beloved venue that, despite its diminished business and faded glory, is still more or less considered to be the Notre Dame of LA movie theatres. The Chinese is a landmark that is deeply woven into Hollywood’s history and lore, and is a kind of spiritual institution that should be protected by the city and/or the state or some kind of high-minded, non-slimy consortium and managed by priests and choirboys, or certainly not by the likes of Samaha and Kushner, who are basically satanic figures in this context.


(l.) Elie Samaha; (r.) Don Kushner.

The Chinese has been a sagging or failing enterprise for a few years now, largely due to the competition from the Arclight, and the law of the jungle says that all weak animals will be eaten sooner or later by predators. But there’s something profoundly icky about Samaha and Kushner transforming the Chinese into a mixed-venue attraction — occasional screenings, special-event rentals, attracting sports fans, glitzy night-life empties and nocturnal pussy-hounds (i.e., the Charlie Sheen and Kim Kardashian crowd).

The HE source believes, but couldn’t provide proof, that Samaha was instrumental in arranging for basketball star Kobe Bryant to be honored with a hand-and-footprint ceremony at the Chinese.

The Chinese staff is off salary as of 5.20, the source informs, and that’s when the heartache begins.

Samaha, the former dry-cleaning entrepeneur who became a kind of funny-money movie producer starting in the late ’90s, has been running (via a sub-lease deal) the Vogue nightclub at Hollywood and Cahuenga as well as the Playhouse, a club that used to be the Fox Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, co-operated by Samaha (who also reportedly ran Roxbury, Sunset Room and White Lotus) and Rob Vinokur.

“Samaha has been doing walk-throughs at the Chinese for some time,” the source says, “and it is clear from conversations with his people that he wants to turn the Chinese into a mixed venue that can show films, hold concerts, be rented out with removable seats to accomodate dance floor or standing-room-only crowds, etc, along with adding a bar and kitchen.

“Samaha can sugarcoat this ‘mixed venue’ concept all he wants, but clearly his intentions are not for the preservation of a grand movie palace, but rather for a grand club,” the source contends.

Samaha “also intends to convert the Chinese 6 plex upstairs into a tri-level night club that would serve as after-party location for premieres and events that might be held at the Graumans, so the studios would be more or less forced to book a package with him if they want a film to premiere at Grauman’s Chinese.”