Carole Lombard gives young Jackie Cooper support as he races down a Paramount street against Groucho and Harpo Marx in 1933. But look to the top of the photo, to that wall at the end of the street. On the other side is a place whose history is every bit as colorful as its cinematic neighbor (in fact, roughly half of its acreage was used to create the studio that eventually became Paramount). It's also home to all sorts of legends...legends who will never leave, at least not of their own accord.
I'm referring to Hollywood Forever cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard. And Saturday, I took a guided tour of the facility.
Its administrator is Karie Bible, a film historian and a delightful raconteur.
The tour is $15 and usually takes about two hours or so (but our group of about 10 was having so much fun -- or was it a hot day? -- that it took more than 2 1/2 hours. No one was complaining).
The cemetery was founded in 1899 (though it wouldn't actually host gravesites for another few years) as Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, at a time when Hollywood was almost entirely rural. But like the rest of Los Angeles, its population steadily grew -- in Hollywood's case, largely because of the growth of the motion picture industry. Land and light were plentiful (important in the early days of cinematography), and a variety of settings (from beachfronts to snow-capped mountains in wintertime) were within easy reach.
By the late teens, the industry had won respectability, and the cemetery was growing. But according to Bible, its most perilous times were on the horizon when a wealthy convicted felon named Jules Roth bought a majority interest in Hollywood Memorial Park. It fell into disrepair as Roth diverted much of the cemetery's revenue for his personal use. When Hattie McDaniel -- the first black actor to win an Academy Award -- had wished to be buried at Hollywood Memorial upon her death in 1952, Roth refused to accept her. (The cemetery would not be desegregated until 1959.) Roth also sold two long lawn properties in front of the cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard to settle tax bills; they became long strip malls.
By the '90s, Hollywood Memorial was in horrific shape, and Bible said its chief source of revenue was from those wishing to disinter loved ones. Roth died in early 1998, and later that year, brothers Tyler and Brent Cassity rescued the cemetery from possible closure, purchasing it for a mere $375,000. They changed the name to Hollywood Forever, began revitalizing the place, and now it's the showplace it should have been all along.
So, who are some of its residents? Bible pointed out several dozen to us; this is probably the most famous:
He's silent-era icon Rudolph Valentino (whose incredible magnetism is obvious to anyone who watches one of his films). He's been here since 1926 and is regularly visited, though hardly anyone today was past childhood while he was alive. The second-most famous resident? Does the phrase "gabba gabba hey" mean anything to you?
Yep, Johnny Ramone -- and it's hard to believe that next month, the leader of the punk-rock movement will have been gone from us for a decade. A tribute will take place at the cemetery Aug. 24; to learn more and buy tickets, go to http://www.ticketfly.com/purchase/event/615955?utm_medium=bks. Proceeds will benefit the Johnny Ramone Foundation & Dr. David Agus at the Center for Applied Medicine at the University of Southern California.
Baby boomers fondly recall two stalwarts of '60s television...
...Don Adams (whose distinctive voice for Maxwell Smart and other characters was a parody of William Powell's clipped diction!) and...
...Mel Blanc, whose genius for voices brightened Warners cartoons and added a special comic touch to "The Jack Benny Program."
The contrast between final resting places is fascinating. On one hand, you have the large memorial for Marion Davies and her family (whose name was Douras, though the Roman "u" as "v" was employed here)...
...while at the bottom of an interior mausoleum lies the vault for Peter Lorre:
And Hollywood Forever also has cenotaphs -- memorials honoring those buried elsewhere -- such as Jayne Mansfield, whose remains are in Pennsylvania:
(Note the fan club who sponsored this took five years off Jayne's birth. Jayne, who knew how to play the Hollywood game as well as anybody, probably would chuckle at this.)
One of Hollywood's most famous canine stars, Toto, also has a cenotaph (it was played by a female dog even though the character was male. Deem it Lassie in reverse):
And remember we noted that Hattie McDaniel was barred from the cemetery in the '50s? While her relatives declined to move her remains, the Cassity brothers set things right with a cenotaph in her honor:
To learn more about the tour, go to http://cemeterytour.com/pages/tourinfo.php or email email@example.com. You'll enjoy it as much as I did.
Several hours after taking the tour, I went over to Chavez Ravine (where Dodger Stadium is located) for a Saturday night game against the Chicago Cubs. The place was packed and the fans were into the game; nothing new about either thing. But about the eighth inning or so, something unusual did happen...
The above photo is from February 2011, the usual rainy season in Los Angeles. But during baseball season in southern California, precipitation is minimal at most. Over the years, only a handful of rainouts have occurred at Dodger or Angel Stadium.
I was sitting in the second-to-last row of the top deck and could see the rain coming down -- not heavy to halt play, but steady. To be fair, it was rather soothing; as you may have heard, California is experiencing a dreadful drought and needs all the rain it can get. It was a surreal experience, to say the least. (Until last night, the only SoCal rain I ever had experienced was a cloudburst in March 2000 while I was near Universal City.)
The rain continued, and so did the game, tied at 2 into the ninth inning...the 10th...the 11th...the 12th. Finally, in the bottom of the 12th, the Dodgers got a rally going, though they'd had trouble all night converting with running in scoring position. With two out and two on, Hanley Ramirez came up -- and hey, Vin Scully can describe it better than I:
Cue the blue bubble machine, brought out from the Dodger dugout. Cue Randy Newman's "I Love L.A.", as Ramirez belts his first walk-off home run. Cue a happy, if wet, walk to the shuttle bus to Union Station.
As stated, the water shortage in the state is a serious problem, and the other day, all-news KNX did a series of broadcasts on the crisis called "Running On Empty." Perhaps for this moist, humid weekend, another Jackson Browne title should be used...though we'll settle for only loving the rain, not the thunder, thank you: