Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Saying Farewell to 2014 at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

In remembrance of Hattie McDaniel

It’s not that I’m ghoulish; I just appreciate old cemeteries for preserving a slice of local history. And Hollywood Forever, on Santa Monica Boulevard in the heart of workaday Hollywood, is a special place to find insights about the movie capital of the world. After attending several services on the premises, and being enthralled both by the wandering peacocks and the wacky assortment of gaudy headstones, I realized I really needed to take a tour. Fortunately, a young lady with the fascinating name of Karie Bible was on hand as an expert guide. It seemed the perfect way to ring out 2014.   

Bible, who holds a degree in film history and frequently appears on cable movie channels, begins each tour with a run-down of the cemetery’s history. It was founded as Hollywood Memorial Park in 1899, before the film industry ever arrived in California. But soon Paramount and RKO were buying off unused cemetery land to incorporate into their back lots, and the cemetery became the resting place of choice for much of early Hollywood. Unfortunately, under the ownership (1939-98) of an embezzler and all-around crook named Jules Roth, Hollywood Memorial Park fell into disrepair. The property was bought and renamed in 1998 by a midwestern family determined to return it to its past glories. Today there are some exotic new touches: a glittering section of Thai funeral monuments; a hodgepodge of flashy graves (complete with embedded photographs and small gardens) of Russian and Armenian emigrés; those peacocks.  In summer, outdoor movie screenings are held weekly on the lush Fairbanks lawn. There are also concerts, plays, and much filming: Six Feet Under was shot here.

On our tour I saw a grandiose monument housing Cecil B. DeMille, who was buried facing his home studio, Paramount Pictures. There’s a Greek temple for Marian Davies, a humble plaque for Peter Lorre, and a touching tribute to Tyrone Power, whose sudden death  at age 44 is memorialized via a simple bench bearing a quotation from Hamlet: “There is providence in the fall of a sparrow.” Hattie McDaniel was originally barred from the premises because of her race, but now there’s a marble pillar dedicated in her honor. Doubtless the most celebrated spot in the so-called Hollywood Cathedral Mausoleum is occupied by Rudolph Valentino, whose wall-crypt is marked by lipstick stains and faded flowers from some recent Lady in Black.
Among the slightly more recent dignitaries at rest here are Jayne Mansfield, Peter Finch, Estelle Getty (her grave marked by colorful stones), and Maila Nurmi (whose fans leave toy skulls and whiskey bottles in tribute to her Vampira alter-ego). The grave of Don Adams, best known for TV’s Get Smart, combines a solemn-looking angel and a plaque depicting him as bumbling Maxwell Smart, holding his shoe-phone to his ear. Toto of Wizard of Oz fame gets a cenotaph, and perhaps the most recent celebrity interment is that of ageless Mickey Rooney (September 3, 1920 to April 6, 2014), whose monument reads “One of the greatest entertainers the world has ever known. Hollywood will always be his home.”

A far shorter life was enjoyed by Johnny  Ramone, who died of prostate cancer in 2004, at age 55. Each year, the flamboyant statue of Johnny in action becomes the focal point of a star-studded concert that raises money for cancer research.

One of the simpler graves  is that of the celebrated “man of a thousand voices,” Mel Blanc. In recognition of his voicing of famous Warner Bros. cartoon characters, I’ll end with the  phrase that marks his headstone: “That’s all, folks.”    
Dedicated to Randy Dotinga, president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, with whom I shared this adventure. And a Happy New Year to all my readers.

Rudolph Valentino, buried in a borrowed crypt

Johnny Ramone
Don Adams ("Maxwell Smart")


  1. Always wanted to visit here but never have.I only live a few miles away in Riverside County. I just wondered why Johnny Ramone was buried here and not back east. Nice article :)

  2. Thanks so much for writing, Leontyne. You really should visit -- Karie gives a terrific 2-hour tour. I imagine that if you write to her at info@cemeterytour.com, she can tell you why Johnny Ramone's grave is here. I suspect that he and his wife ended up making their home in sunny SoCal. I hope you will return to Beverly in Movieland very soon. I post twice weekly.

  3. I would definitely like to take this tour - what a trove of Hollywood history and remembrance!

  4. Yes, Hollywood lives on . . . so to speak.

  5. Jayne Mansfield is buried in Pennsylvania; Johnny Ramone's cremated remains are not yet interred here. The current lady in black is Karie Bible; she would never put lipstick on a marble crypt front. C.B. DeMille was interred above ground, facing up.

  6. Thanks for the trivia, Anonymous. I was fortunate to take a tour with the wonderful Karie Bible, and I agree that she would never dream of planted a lipstick kiss on the front of a crypt. But certainly SOMEBODY did.