Peter O'Toole Immortalized in Cement at Chinese Theatre
Another big highlight for me at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival was witnessing the hand and footprint ceremony for cinema icon Peter O’Toole. I had an excellent position in the press gallery as the living legend fulfilled an envious custom experienced by only a select group of people.
Saturday morning, April 30, 2011, a dedicated crowd of Peter O’Toole fans gathered at the forecourt of the world famous Grauman’s Theatre to watch a bit of history in the making. The legendary actor became the latest artist to place his hands and feet in the famed theater’s cement. Only this time the slab was purposely colored to appear like desert sand in remembrance of O’Toole’s first, and most acclaimed film, “Lawrence of Arabia”.
TCM on-air host, Robert Osborne was on hand to introduce the 78 year-old actor with a brief, but touching reminder of just who it was we were all gathered to honor, saying, “It was exactly 50 years ago that somewhere in the sands of the Arabian desert a basically unknown Peter O’Toole, known to theater-goers in London, but not to us anywhere elsewhere in the world was making a movie called Lawrence of Arabia. We jump ahead now to April 30, 2011 and this wonderful man is world famous and we’re very happy to have him here to thank him for Lawrence of Arabia, and for Beckett, for The Ruling CLass, for My Favorite Year, for the Lion in Winter. You know, all these great films, The Stunt Man, and all of that. And what I will say about Peter, he’s never failed to excite us, entertain us, enthrall us, and also surprise us with what he does. He also possesses the one quality that I think is most essential in any person - he has a true passion for what he does”.
Before O’Toole took the stage Osborne also pointed out that the hand and footprint ceremony is actually the most exclusive honor one can have in Hollywood. As you may know there are thousands of Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and thousands of Academy Awards have been presented, but O’Toole would be only the 232nd person to be so honored as he was that morning. The gathered fans cheered with loud enthusiasm as Osborne introduced, “Peter the Great” and the day’s honoree stepped up to the podium escorted by his daughter, Kate and his son, Lorcan.
Upon reaching the microphone the dashingly attired O’Toole immediately went into the tale of his last intimate encounter with cement. His still distinctive voice recalled that previous relationship with the substance. O’Toole said, “it turned out to be an unhappy one”. Apparently when he was a young and broke drama student he didn’t have a suit that would enable him to get a nice job. So, he took a job with some local Irish cement mixers. Of course, the other workers gave him a hard time and the job became thoroughly unpleasant. So, naturally he said, “I hope today when I put myself in cement that the outcome is a little more cheerful”. And it was.
O’Toole first wrote his signature across the square slab, and then took a small break as a knee board was placed for him to kneel for the handprints. It is a rather awkward position one has to maintain for a few minutes to ensure the imprint holds. But O’Toole never lost his spirited demeanor and appeared to be enjoying every moment no matter how unusual the stance. The last part is the creation of the footprints. This is much easier for the participant as all they have to do is stand still for a few minutes. This may all sound pretty simple, but it is quite exciting to watch as it actually happens before your very eyes. Watch the video coverage by Liz H. Kelly for Great Love, Great Life and you will know what I mean. And be sure to catch the kiss O’Toole gives Rose McGowen. The young actress gives an appropriate classic Hollywood reaction.
I live within blocks of Grauman’s, so I am likely to see O’Toole’s prints on a regular basis. And when I do I will forever remember the moment I saw it all happen - heck, I practically touched the cement slab! Whenever I see them I will know that I was there as a part of cinema history took place. For that reason (and a few others), O’Toole’s prints will now be my favorite. Judging from the reaction of the supportive crowd that cheered O’Toole’s graceful exit, I’m sure I’m not alone.