Some people lament the passing of the old Hollywood. Others put it on their vacation schedules.
For the old Hollywood may be dead and buried, but it’s not gone. It is still there under the loamy earth of Los Angeles.
You can visit Cecil B. DeMille’s burial plot, Peter Lorre’s crypt site, even the final resting place of Hopalong Cassidy’s horse, Topper.
Lest you think this too ghoulish, I should mention that there are tours and theme parks devoted to the dear departed. You can find full-color tourism brochures at hotel check-in desks. Tourism is encouraged at some (though not all) celebrity graveyards.
You want to see Tyrone Power’s grave? Hollywood Forever Cemetery will give you a map to the tombstones of the famous dead.
Forest Lawn even has a gift shop.
So if you are tired of all the usual destinations in Southern California or if you want an offbeat vacation, try visiting some of these sites.
It works best if you have a sense of humor about it. But it should be a quiet sense of humor. These are working cemeteries and although they welcome visitors, rowdiness and impertinence — to say nothing of loud radios and beer drinking — can wind up in your being asked to leave.
Enjoy the peace and solitude but no picnicking.
FOREST LAWN MEMORIAL PARK
The largest and most famous cemetery in the Los Angeles area is Forest Lawn. Actually, there are five Forest Lawns, with sites in Glendale, Hollywood Hills, Cypress, Covina Hills and Sunnyside. Each has a different organizational theme.
But it is the original location in Glendale that should be visited first.
”So much to see for free!” says the memorial park’s brochure.
”Imagine, in one afternoon you can see exact replicas of Michelangelo’s greatest works … Leonardo da Vinci’s immortal Last Supper re-created in brilliant stained glass … two of the world’s largest paintings … original bronze and marble statuary, rare coins, valuable 13th-century stained glass, Old World architecture.”
And several suits of armor, to say nothing of a stone head named Henry from Easter Island.
The exhibits mix high art with religious kitsch and naive patriotism.
The Court of Freedom, for instance, includes a 20-foot-high mosaic of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, flanked by tablets engraved with selected highlights of the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.
And make sure you get a copy of the event schedule at the gate so you don’t miss anything.
One season, Forest Lawn featured concerts by the Valleyaires Barber Shop Singers, the Burbank Chamber Orchestra and the Notre Dame Irish Knight Band.
”It’s Showtime!” the leaflet says. ”History comes alive at Forest Lawn.”
Sample shows include ”A Visit with Michelangelo,” with an actor impersonating the famous sculptor, and similar events with visits with Lincoln, Washington and Montezuma.
Each of the locations hosts a million visitors a year.
Forest Lawn probably could not have happened anywhere but Los Angeles.
The vision for Forest Lawn came to a former cowboy and miner named Hubert Easton. At age 31 in 1912, he came to a 55-acre cemetery in Tropico, now Glendale, as sales manager.
He found the cemetery business too dreary and decided to eliminate tombstones and add lots of rolling lawns, statues and fountains.
”Forest Lawn will be more than a cemetery,” he wrote. ”It will be a memorial park, a place for people young and old to visit and enjoy … a place where not only will the sorrowing be comforted but the spirits of all who enter will be uplifted.”
He also figured out that he could sell burial plots to the living in anticipation of later need — a revolutionary idea at the beginning of the century — and he added a working mortuary to the grounds on the principle that people would be attracted to one-stop shopping.
His ideas caught fire. His sales jumped 250 percent the first year alone.
Over the years, the property was decorated with a huge quantity of art, mostly reproductions of famous pieces. Most of Michelangelo’s best-known statues can be found on-site.
Perhaps the most memorable art is not the most famous. What you never can forget once you have been through the memorial park is the incredible number of maudlin and sentimental statues, Victorian kitsch of angels protecting unbearably innocent little babes or mothers standing protectively over their children or faces of white-bread Sunday-school devotion.
They are everywhere in the park, which also is divided into sections with names such as Slumberland, Lullabyland and Inspiration Slope.
In many portions of the park, there is a continual murmur of devotional music, the kind of Mantovani Londonderry Air that makes the park into something very like a perpetual car dealership commercial.
The kitsch reaches high dudgeon at the Hall of the Crucifixion-Resurrection, which houses one of the world’s largest paintings, Polish artist Jan Styka’s 195-foot-long Crucifixion.
It dwarfs an IMAX film screen and shows a Victorian vision of the death of Christ with a cast of thousands. It is presented in a huge, very dark and reverent theater, complete with theater seats and a recorded narration that leaves you walking out of the building to the sounds of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.
The building also shares its space with Robert Clark’s Resurrection, which makes the Styka painting seem low-key and tasteful in comparison.
I am in no way intending to make fun of anyone’s religion. The reverence anyone feels toward these spiritual events is noble and understandable. It is the aesthetic garishness of the paintings that makes me turn my head in embarrassment.
Yet they must be seen. For to understand America, you must understand Hollywood, and to understand Hollywood, you must come to know Forest Lawn.
HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY
Forest Lawn takes itself very seriously — I suppose it should.
But management there is reluctant to tell visitors where celebrities are buried. It is the final resting place of such Hollywood luminaries as Clark Gable, W.C. Fields, Nat ”King” Cole and Jean Harlow, but you will discover the grave sites only by luck.
At the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, stop at the front office to get a photocopied map marked with many of the celebrity graves.
The atmosphere is very different from Forest Lawn. Gone is the grandiosity, gone is the perfect manicure. The graveyard is falling down and not always perfectly mowed. Many headstones are tumbling over, and even the larger monuments are looking kind of sad.
Yet it is the place to go to see Rudolph Valentino’s final resting place, a shoulder-high drawer in the Hollywood Cathedral Mausoleum. The famous ”Lady in Black” no longer visits, yet on the day I visited, there were fresh roses ornamenting the plaque.
Cecil B. DeMille’s plot is suitably gaudy, and Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s grave has a reflecting pool although the water is rather murky. And both Darla Hood and Carl ”Alfalfa” Switzer are found here. Among the other celebrities are Edward G. Robinson, John Huston, Eleanor Powell, Janet Gaynor, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Adolphe Menjou, Paul Muni and Woody Herman.
If you are a real Hollywood buff, you may notice the small, bronze plaque for Virginia Rappe. She was the unfortunate starlet who died in the Fatty Arbuckle scandal.
Someone besides me remembers, for the small cypress tree above the plaque was adorned with several red ribbons and there were flowers on the nameplate.
And Mel Blanc’s headstone actually says, ”That’s all folks.”
In all, about 400 celebrities are buried there.
The Hollywood Forever Cemetery was founded in 1899 and originally consisted of 100 acres. It has shrunk considerably and is backed now by a factory of corrugated tin.
LA MEMORIAL PET CEMETERY
”It’s sad, but Rudolph Valentino’s dog’s grave is better kept than his own,” says the woman at the Los Angeles Memorial Pet Cemetery in Calabasas.
Valentino’s Doberman pinscher, Kabar, is only one of many celebrity pets buried on the hillside next to the U.S. 101 freeway. The cemetery is immaculately well-kept. It was not always so.
The park opened in 1928, and among the 30,000 or so animals interred there are the pets of Jimmy Durante, Mickey Rooney, Humphrey Bogart, Angie Dickinson, Bud Abbott and Eddie Fisher.
But by the late ’60s, the family who owned the cemetery no longer could keep it up and donated it to the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which also found it too expensive and difficult to operate. They were in the process of selling the land to a developer when a group of the pet owners banded together to save the place.
In 1986, the consortium of pet lovers bought the land and managed in the process to persuade the California Legislature to pass a law declaring that all pet cemeteries must remain so in perpetuity, so no dog lover should worry that someday his Fido’s grave will be bulldozed over for a 7-Eleven.
The entrance to the cemetery is obscure, and you must drive through some nasty industrial roads to get there, but once inside the gates, everything is sunlight and green hills.
There is a fountain and a statue of St. Francis, and you can tell that the non-profit S.O.P.H.I.E. Inc. (Save Our Pets’ History In Eternity) that operates the park really cares about the animals in its charge.
It does not encourage tourism and doesn’t want to be seen as a freak show, but it will accept visits from anyone interested in what it has been doing.
And perhaps you may find the grave of Hopalong Cassidy’s horse, Topper, or the modest plaque above the final resting place of Petey, the ring-eyed dog from the Our Gang comedies.
I enjoyed reading your post. I live a short walk to Forest Lawn Glendale and have several family members buried there. My grandparents are neighbors with Walt Disney! I’ve always found it to be a creepy place in that it is a bit too perfect. The book “LA Bizarro” has a funny piece on it! I would NEVER want to be buried at Forest Lawn. Ick!
Hollywood Forever is more my style. I love that they have film screenings and parties in the cemetery. It just feels like a real place and not so contrived or artificial like Forest Lawn.
Another cemetery related thing to add is the Wicked Lit theater festival. I can’t remember which cemetery they use, but around Halloween, they do night time plays in the cemetery and mausoleum. It’s somewhere in the San Gabriel Valley and a unique event worth checking out.