A common pastime for tourists in Los Angeles is to drive past the homes of celebrities. One of my cherished activities during my own trips to L.A.. has involved a twist on that concept: visiting the current residences of people who are rich, famous — and dead. As you might expect given the association of the city with show business, several area cemeteries include large concentrations of former stars from the entertainment field. I’ve been to two of those cemeteries so far: Forest Lawn, which is located in the town of Glendale; and Hollywood Forever, which as its name implies is situated in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles.
This post is a sequel of sorts to my article from December 2012 about offbeat attractions that I found in Los Angeles. Below, in part 2 of the series, I recount my excursions to a pair of the L.A. area’s “cemeteries to the stars.” As those visits took place in 2012 and 2013, it has obviously taken me a while to get around to writing about them. However, be warned: death waits for no man.
Graveyard # 1: Forest Lawn Memorial Park – Glendale
Date of visit: September 2012
Forest Lawn Memorial Park opened its gates in 1906. It was conceived not as a cemetery but as a “memorial park,” reflecting the founder’s view of cemeteries as “unsightly, depressing stoneyards.” To house the dead in a more appealing way, he aspired to create “a great park devoid of misshapen monuments and other signs of earthly death, but filled with towering trees, sweeping lawns, splashing fountains, beautiful statuary, and … memorial architecture.” One of the unique consequences of this ethos is that the facility has no upright gravestones. Another significant component of the founder’s vision was an abundance of decorative artwork; and today, Forest Lawn abounds with copies of famous paintings and sculptures as well as a museum with a collection of cultural artifacts from around the world. So when you wander through Forest Lawn, even as you’re surrounded by death, you can be uplifted by some of the greatest expressions of the human spirit.
In the over a century since its founding, Forest Lawn has expanded into a chain of “memorial parks” in southern California. In addition to the original Glendale location that I visited, it operates other cities of the dead in Cathedral City; Covina; Cypress; Hollywood Hills; and Long Beach. The Hollywood Hills property, like the Glendale one, can boast a plethora of show-business icons interred on the premises. Among the Earthly remains in permanent residence at the Hollywood Hills site are those of Steve Allen; Gene Autry; Tom Bosley; David Carradine; Bette Davis; Sandra Dee; Casey Kasem; Stan Laurel; Ozzie, Harriet, and Ricky Nelson; Lou Rawls; John Ritter; Joan Rivers; and Telly Savalas. When I get the chance, I’m going to make it out to the Hollywood Hills branch to pay my respects in person to those dear departed folks. But now, on to my tour of the Glendale location:
The artworks and artifacts
An afternoon at Forest lawn is a culturally enriching experience. But the main reason for going is to commune with the dead. Join me now as I guide you through the final resting places of some of Forest Lawn’s more illustrious residents.
One burial site at Forest Lawn that I meant to stop by, but which I inadvertently missed, belongs to lovable actor Jimmy Stewart. If I had taken a photo of his grave marker, I totally would have captioned it “Mr. Smith goes to heaven.” 🙂 Additional notable names entombed at Forest Lawn in Glendale, but not pictured above, include actor-comedian W.C. Fields; actress Jean Harlow; singers Sam Cooke and Teena Marie; George Cukor, director of such films as The Philadelphia Story and My Fair Lady; Samuel Goldwyn, a co-founder of MGM Studios; and sculptor Gutzon Borglum, the creator of Mount Rushmore. (Some of those individuals are interred in private areas that are off-limits to the public.)
Graveyard # 2: Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Date of visit: September 2013
Originally called Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, this oldest cemetery in Hollywood dates back to 1899. By the late 1990s, the site had fallen into disrepair, and financial mismanagement had pushed it into bankruptcy. However, in 1998 it was purchased at auction by new owners who sought to rescue the historic cemetery. After acquiring it for the bargain-basement price of $375,000, the buyers refurbished the grounds, rebranded the facility as “Hollywood Forever,” and began offering public tours. In addition, films are now screened at the cemetery during summer months and holidays (they’re projected onto the wall of one of the mausoleums); these movie showings are a substantial source of revenue for the formerly cash-strapped graveyard. Unlike the corpses who inhabit it, Hollywood Forever has been resurrected. It’s now a pleasant place to spend time (as long as you’re not spending eternity there). 🙂
Because I was pressed for time and had a flight to catch, I didn’t get to all of the graves that would have liked to see at Hollywood Forever. Some of the more high-profile corpses whose grave markers are not shown above are those of director John Huston (known for such cinematic classics as Treasure of the Sierra Madre The Maltese Falcon, and The African Queen); actress Fay Wray (the damsel in distress in the original 1933 King Kong movie); “Golden Girl” Estelle Getty; and actress Marion Davies, the long-time mistress of William Randolph Hearst.
One of the most prominent decedents at Hollywood Forever was neither an actor or director, but was someone whose fame was enhanced by other people’s depictions of him on the big screen:
And finally, a reminder of how the denizens of Hollywood Forever get there in the first place: