LOS ANGELES — The Million Dollar Theater is one of the gems of the Broadway theater district, and while it is not officially known to be haunted, it does carry over 100 years of LA stories that speak to us from out of the past.
What You Need To Know
- The Million Dollar Theater is one of the Broadway Theater Districts gems, built by showman Sid Grauman and opened in 1918
- The theater was both a live music venue as well as a movie theater and, over the years, has hosted the world's biggest stars and became a popular venue for Spanish-language musical acts
- The theater is now one of the venues for The Secret Movie Club, which screens classic films in 35mm
- The Secret Movie Club is hosting a monthlong program of Halloween-oriented movies, culminating in an all-day Halloween-o-thon
In recent years, the theater also has become one of the venues for the Secret Movie Club, which has helped reactivate the space and has attracted volunteer historians like Steve Gerdes, who comes to the screenings to share some of his knowledge.
Gerdes carries a book full of historical photos of the Million Dollar Theater that he shows to visitors while explaining the theater's rich history. He explains, for instance, that over the years, many of the world's leading musical, stage and screen performers have made appearances at the Million Dollar.
"A lot of the big bands played here," Gerdes said. "Artie Shaw, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday played here, and they would show a movie in addition to the live music."
Charlie Chaplin also appeared. Gerdes showed a photo of Chaplin playing the theater's pipe organ with Sid Grauman, who built the theater, along with the world-famous Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.
Although the theater's heyday has passed, one is constantly reminded of its former luster. Backstage are the dressing rooms that would have hosted some of the biggest stars of stage and screen, now dark and dilapidated, spooky reminders of the theater's golden era.
Gerdes pointed out that many of the theater's decorative architectural features, some of them animals, also lend an air of mystery to the space.
"A lot of the characters are from a children's story that was really popular when this place was built called the 'King of the Golden River,'" Gerdes said, pointing his flashlight on a sullen-looking figure of a dog high above the stage proscenium. The dog is a character in the story, which revolves around two brothers and features supernatural elements.
"[In the story] because the two brothers were such evil people, the southwest wind blew into the valley and destroyed everything," Gerdes said.
Gerdes always brings a flashlight to the theater so that he can point out details to visitors, such as the golden eagles flanking the balcony. They were once golden but were painted over many years ago when the theater had ceased operating regularly and was mostly used as a location for film shoots.
Throughout October, movie fans have been coming to the Secret Movie Club's Halloween series to see some classic scary movies shown in 35 mm film. Secret Movie Club founder Craig Hamill said Halloween is one of the best times to screen movies.
"October is like our Christmas," Hammill said. "When you show horror movies, everybody comes out. So, in a weird way, this is what we consider the start of our year. You're experiencing stresses and fears you have to experience but in a safe space, and you know everyone else is experiencing it with you."
The Secret Movie Club's Halloween-o-thon includes everything from Tim Burton's "Beetlejuice" to John Carpenter's original "Halloween," but Gerdes said he does not care too much for scary movies. He comes to enhance the movie-going experience with some real-life history.
"The [Broadway] theaters are just so special because they're just such a one-of-a-kind place," Gerdes said.