Topic: Historic Hollywood
Walk Like an Egyptian, or Something
Here's Hollywood Boulevard on a cloudy Saturday morning, looking west, past the Egyptian Theater, past the Pig 'N Whistle, the big Scientology building, to the Guinness "Book of Records" place. It's an odd town. And the fellow in the shot doesn't seem to be walking like an Egyptian.
This Pig 'n Whistle place opened on July 22, 1927, and according to them, was "an instant favorite with the movie colony as well as the local citizenry." Who would that be? Shirley Temple, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and Loretta Young were regulars, and they say Cary Grant, Jane Wyman or Walter Pidgeon too. The word is that from the late sixties on, whenever the Rolling Stones were in town, Jagger and Richards could be found here, and when the Beatles were in town, recording, as they did, at the Capitol Records Building not that many blocks away, they would drop by. It's supposed to be a hangout for visiting Brit rock stars, but no one really sees them there much, if at all. The menu is pretty much American. And as for the name, that comes from the two words Piggin and Wassail - a piggin is a vessel (usually a jug) used to carry ale, and a wassail is a toast, as in "Good Health," and also a special occasion drink made from spiced wine or sweetened ale. So the name is British, even if the place isn't. Hollywood is a land of fakery.
The Pig 'n Whistle is connected to the forecourt of the Egyptian Theatre by a side entrance, and that place has a history. It was built by Sid Grauman, who also built Chinese Theater, three blocks west across the street, and the Million Dollar Theater on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. In the early twenties this Egyptian thing cost Sid eight hundred thousand dollars, and it took eighteen months to build - the architects were Meyer & Holler and it was built by the Milwaukee Building Company.
Okay, Sid did fake Egyptian, and fake Chinese, and had guys from Milwaukee put it all up, so why not open a fake British pub next door? It's a Hollywood thing.
The joke is that the Egyptian was designed to be Spanish Revival, but they slapped on the Egyptian details at the last moment, just after the discovery of King Tut's tomb by archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922 - Sid Grauman was a showman who knew who to ride the buzz. And the Egyptian Theatre was the site of the first-ever Hollywood premiere - "Robin Hood," starring Douglas Fairbanks. That was on Wednesday, October 18, 1922, red carpets and all.
But the Egyptian wasn't to be a success. Grauman abandoned it in 1927, putting up the Chinese Theater down the street. The Egyptian wasn't restored until recently - American Cinematheque purchased it from the City of Los Angeles in 1996 for one dollar, agreeing to restore it. No one likes ratty abandoned historic landmarks, and what could the City do with it? Now it's two smaller halls in the same building, not one big two thousand seat hall, and one of the two is a little seventy-seven seat theater named for Steven Spielberg. The Egyptian reopened on December 4, 1998, after almost thirteen million dollars of work, and it's rather snazzy once again.