At Disney's Hollywood Studios, the Great Movie Ride takes place inside a replica of the entrance to Graumann's Chinese Theater. While the exterior of the building is a faithful imitation of that Hollywood Boulevard landmark, the celebrity handprints in the courtyard are not duplicates. Each handprint and signature was produced by that celebrity in a personal appearance at the Florida theme park, either to promote their latest project or as part of a program once known as "Star Today."
The idea behind "Star Today" was that Studios Guests would be guaranteed to run into a celebrity during their visit, adding to the glamour and allure of the Hollywood experience. Every day, a celebrity was scheduled to make appearances in the park. Typically, these would include a Star Motorcade down Hollywood Boulevard, a Handprint Ceremony in front of the Chinese Theater, and a Star Conversation at the Theater of the Stars where Guests could actually ask questions of their favorite celebrity. Throughout the day, the stars would also make surprise appearances at the start of Studios attractions like Superstar Television or the Monster Sound Show.
In order to fill the program, stars were often booked for several days in a row, although some came for just the one day. The very first "Star Today" on May 1, 1989, was none other than original Mouseketeer Annette Funicello. Here she is at her Handprint Ceremony on that day, with Mickey Mouse, Roger Rabbit (one of Disney's biggest new stars at the time), and Studios Host Don Lampkin (who these days can be seen at Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show).
In August 1989, Jim Henson made a special appearance to announce his pending partnership with the Walt Disney Company. He and Kermit left their imprints in the courtyard, one of the few that was actually done in place (most were cast in a separate tray, then placed into the courtyard later). By the way, the Kermit handprints are those of the actual Muppet, not the Character you see riding with Jim Henson in his Celebrity Motorcade below.
During the main run of the "Star Today" program, the celebrity Guests who came to "join the Disney family of stars" ran the gamut from old to young, movies to music, A-list to D-list. Some of the biggest stars appeared as part of the opening ceremonies for the park, leaving their mark but not necessarily participating in the full program. Among these were Hollywood legends George Burns and Bob Hope (who helped cut the filmstrip ribbon dedicating the Studios):
The lovely Audrey Hepburn took part in advance press previews for the park, explaining why the date on her handprint is earlier than May 1. Actually, there are several handprints in the courtyard dating back to 1988. They were captured from celebrities visiting or working at the Studio during its year of operation prior to the opening of the theme park. Some even wrote Happy Birthday wishes to Mickey Mouse, who was celebrating his 60th that year.
Some other notable handprints from stars of the day:
Maureen O'Sullivan, who portrayed Jane in the Tarzan films and makes an appearance inside the Great Movie Ride.
Daryl Hannah, who played Madison the mermaid in Splash (1984), the first film released through Disney's Touchstone label.
Hulk Hogan, who at the time was starring in a syndicated television series from the producers of Baywatch, called Thunder in Paradise. The series was shot entirely at Disney-MGM Studios and locations around Walt Disney World.
Here's Danny DeVito, who came with his entire family. Nearby are imprints of R2-D2 and C-3PO made to commemorate the soft opening of the Star Tours attraction, and George Lucas, who made his appearance in August of 89 for the dedication of the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular (from opening day, Guests had been invited to watch rehearsals at the Indy stage, but the full show wasn't ready until more than three months later).
Another one-timer: Harrison Ford. Ford has actually visited Walt Disney World several times since, but prefers to enjoy the parks privately with his family. As the top tourism destination in the world, Walt Disney World hosts many celebrity Guests throughout the year, most of whom choose to avoid the limelight and just blend in. To help them get around as easily as possible (and to avoid potential disruption to normal operations), Disney typically provides VIP Guides to help escort stars during their stay.
Sylvester Stallone was at the Studio for work in late 1990, filming the Touchstone Pictures comedy Oscar. Interiors for the movie were shot on Stages 2 and 3 (now home to Toy Story Midway Mania!). Guests on the Backstage Studio Tour could glimpse the sets from the tour catwalk and sometimes even see production taking place. Whenever Stallone was on the stage, however, the curtains were drawn to eliminate the distraction of peeping tourists.
Of course, mixed among the real celebrity handprints in the courtyard are a few which were fabricated for show value or pure promotion: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz (once on display inside the Chinese Theater). Toward the left side of the courtyard can be found the boots and "blast marks" of The Rocketeer. As part of the summer promotion of that Disney adventure film, the Rocketeer himself flew by jet pack, out and above the theater courtyard during each evening's presentation of Sorcery in the Sky fireworks.
Of course, there are many more celebrity handprints featured in the courtyard. There are probably even more celebrities who participated in "Star Today" whose handprints never made it there, either because they were damaged in some way or simply deemed "not big enough." A few additional handprints can be found at the entrance of Theater of the Stars on Sunset Boulevard. The participation of still others is commemorated in the series of portrait postcards on display inside the lobby of Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano.
The "Star Today" program was officially discontinued in the late 1990s, as it became more costly and difficult to gain the participation of recognizable celebrities. That wasn't the end of star appearances at the Studios, however. Today, celebrity Guests still pop up on occasion for publicity shots, special events, or just to hang out on vacation. So the next time you're at Disney's Hollywood Studios, keep your eyes peeled. You might just see a star today!