a grave situation in los angeles

No family vacation would be complete without a visit to a cemetery — right?  Just one day after spending an evening trick-or-treating at Mickey’s Halloween Party in Disneyland, I awoke early and dragged my family to Los Angeles to do a little celebrity grave-hunting. After a brief stop for coffee and doughnuts at the charming LA Farmers Market, we headed for Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills. Forest Lawn operates six cemeteries in southern California. While the Hollywood Hills location is not the largest in the chain, it does boast over ten thousand permanent residents. It is situated between Warner Brothers Studios and Griffith Park and features a vast expanse of rolling lawns and steep, almost unnavigable hills. The majority of graves are adorned with flat-to-the-ground plaques, making grave-spotting a bit on the difficult side. However, the grounds are sprinkled with the occasional white marble statue that make for good landmarks and directional references. (You think this is just an arbitrary hobby? ). The full spectrum of show business is represented in those interred there, from silent film to television to modern movies to music and the printed page. Oh, and we missed Tom Bosley’s funeral by one day.

Once traversing the treacherous US 101-The Hollywood Freeway (incidentally, much of the debris removed for the freeway’s construction was dumped into Chávez Ravine, the current home of Dodger Stadium) and passing through the front gate, we headed straight to the Court of Remembrance, an enormous, open-air, maze-like mausoleum that houses the earthly remains of hundreds in marble wall crypts and above-ground sarcophagi. The grounds were bustling with visiting families and maintenance workers. My wife even spotted several children playing hop-scotch, using grave markers are landing spaces — so, no one took much notice of me, with my camera and map. First, I ran across the lawn opposite the entrance to the Court of Remembrance to see the graves of comedian and television pioneer Ernie Kovacs and his wife, actress/singer Edie Adams.

Just outside the great marble entrance is the crypt of legendary actress Bette Davis.

Once inside, we came across Oscar-winning actor Charles Laughton and

lion-tamer/circus entrepreneur Clyde Beatty.

The large, multi-courtyard building is lined with smaller rooms displaying bronze plaques. Among the names, we found Ub Iwerks, the man credited with creating Mickey Mouse for Walt Disney.

Actor Alvy Moore who played Mr. Kimball on the TV show Green Acres.

Actress Harriet MacGibbon, best known as Mrs. Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies (pictured with her TV husband Raymond Bailey, whose cremated remains were scattered at sea).

Producer Marty Melcher, ex-husband of Doris Day. Melcher took control of Day’s career during their marriage. He squandered her income, turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate  without showing her the script and negotiated a TV series for her without her consent.

Another Disney-related name interred here is Roy Williams. Roy was the jolly co-host of the Mickey Mouse Club, in addition to being an artist and designer of the famed Mickey Mouse “ears” hat.

Speaking of cartoons, Walter and Gracie Lantz share a wall crypt. Walter created Woody Woodpecker and Gracie provided Woody’s voice and famous laugh.

Here’s Dennis James, one of several game show hosts that call Forest Lawn their eternal home.

Nearby Mr. James is Forrest Tucker, the conniving Sergeant O’Rourke from the TV series F-Troop.

In the next courtyard, my son discovered Nudie Cohn, famed Western clothing designer. Cohn designed colorful “Nudie Suits” for country and western singers — most notably singer Porter Wagoner — for years. (Cohn is pictured with Elvis in his famous gold suit.)

Famous piano-playing Las Vegas showman Liberace shares this crypt with his mother and his brother George. Mysteriously, below Liberace’s name are the remnants of another name that was possibly removed.

Neighbors, in the room called Sanctuary of Light, are movie tough guy George Raft…

and comedian Freddie Prinze, star of 70s sit-com Chico and the Man.

The next courtyard brought us to Albert “Cubby” Broccoli. His name may not be familiar, but Mr. Broccoli was the prolific producer of the James Bond film series.

Here is Rod Steiger, the Oscar-winning actor who played Marlon Brando’s brother in On The Waterfront, among other roles in his seven-decade career.

Another pair of unlikely neighbors are Isabel Sanford, Weezy on The Jeffersons, who lies just below…

funnyman Morey Amsterdam from The Dick Van Dyke Show.

This imposing crypt is holds the remains of heavy metal icon Ronnie James Dio. Dio replaced Ozzie Osborne as lead singer of Black Sabbath and revitalized their popularity.

Interestingly, this crypt remained empty for years and it was an option for Michael Jackson’s remains until it was decided he would be interred at another Forest Lawn location in Glendale.

At the far back section of the Court of Remembrance is actress Sandra Dee, as remembered in the Grease  tune “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”Sandra originated the role of beach bunny “Gidget” and was the former Mrs. Bobby Darin.

We passed another crypt room, just waiting for someone to move in.

A more populated room features character actor Leon Ames, from many films including his role as Judy Garland’s father in Meet Me in St. Louis.

and Larry Walters, who made news in 1982 when he attached a bunch of helium balloons to a lawn chair and flew into controlled airspace near Los Angeles International Airport. He was arrested but his story made headlines. Larry committed suicide in 1993.

Around the corner is Temptations’ bass singer Melvin Franklin (buried under his real name David English).

Two more popular singers are interred here. Bee Gees’ little brother Andy Gibb…

and smooth soul man Lou Rawls.

Over in the Court of Liberty section of outdoor graves, I found the unassuming plot of early Hollywood great Buster Keaton.

Near Mr. Keaton is another, more recent funny man, Marty Feldman, famous as “Eye-gor” in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein (that’s Fronk-en-steen!) Mad Magazine cartoonist Sergio Aragones claims to have startled Feldman so severely that he caused the heart attack that ended his life.

Bert Convy is most famous as a game show host and panelist, despite having sung on Broadway in Fiddler on the Roof  and appearances as an actor in dozens of movies and television shows. Bert was visiting his ailing mother in the hospital when he collapsed. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died a short time later. Bert’s marker is inscribed “His Star Will Shine Forever.” I had to remind my son who Bert Convy was. So much for inscriptions.

We stumbled upon this unusual marker. No, Penn and Teller are not dead (nor are they buried together). They had this cenotaph installed as the payoff to an elaborate trick detailed in their 1997 book How to Play in Traffic. The marker remains here still.

On the other side of the Court of Liberty, is another early film legend, Stan Laurel. He is buried with his wife, not his partner Oliver Hardy.

We saw a few people having a picnic around the grave of Three’s Company  star John Ritter.

Just past Mr. Ritter’s grave is comic book great Bob Kane, the creator of Batman.

The Court of Liberty is anchored by “Birth of Liberty,” the largest historical mosaic in the United States. It is composed of ten million pieces of Venetian glass and is pretty impressive.

Across a small road is the Lincoln Terrace, another open-air section that contains the grave of one of the founders of the band Toto, Jeff Porcaro. As a session drummer, Jeff played with Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, Paul Simon, Steely Dan and many, many others. Jeff died in a freak gardening accident. He inhaled a pesticide that triggered a heart attack.

Here’’s William Conrad, most famous as TV detective Cannon and as the announcer on Rocky & Bullwinkle. Early in his career, he played Marshal Dillon on the radio version of Gunsmoke.

… and Scatman Crothers, best known as the recipient of Jack Nicholson’s axe in The Shining and providing the cartoon voices of Hong Kong Phooey and Autobot Jazz on Transformers.

I had to wait until two women and a young girl vacated the area around the grave of actor David Carradine before I could take this photo. Carradine died as the result of autoerotic asphyxiation (look it up) in a hotel room in Thailand, where he was shooting a film.

On the lawn outside the Lincoln Terrace is the recent grave of actress Brittany Murphy. Her husband, producer/director/writer Simon Monjack, who died five months after Brittany, is buried in an unmarked grave next to her.

A short drive from Brittany Murphy, and at the top of a rather steep incline, is the First Family of Television — the Nelson Family — Ozzie, Harriet and son Rick.

Before we exited the cemetery, we stopped to see three more graves. Famous singing cowboy Gene Autry…

Jack Webb, deadpan Sergeant Joe Friday from TV’s Dragnet…

and this one that sort of baffled me. It’s the empty grave waiting for game show host Bob Barker to fill. Is it possible that the missing “end date” is a guessing game? (Is it higher, Bob?) 

A little closer to Disneyland, in Orange County, is the Crystal Cathedral, founded by TV evangelist Robert Schuller. The Crystal Cathedral filed for bankruptcy at the end of October 2010, citing debt of over 43 million dollars. The building is a striking glass structure surrounded by several bronze sculptures (mostly of Jesus). There is also a small cemetery on the grounds that I wanted to see before it goes into foreclosure.

Buried at the Crystal Cathedral is John Crean, founder of the Fleetwood Motor Home company.

Here is Marie Callender, famous pie baker and namesake of the restaurant chain founded by her son. (It looks as though a pie would fit perfectly  on that little shelf.)

Thurl Ravenscroft also calls Crystal Cathedral Memorial Gardens home. Mr Ravenscroft is most famous as the voice of Tony the Tiger (They’re gr-r-r-r-r-reat!!!). He also sang “You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch” and did countless voices featured on rides in Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

There are a few other “death-related” sites in the Los Angeles area, starting with these two apartment buildings across the street from each other in Downey, California. Close To You and Only Just Begun were purchased by Karen and Richard Carpenter in the early 70s as investment properties. They renamed the properties after two of their hit songs. Karen died at her parents’’ home not far from here.

Around the corner from the LA Farmers Market is the El Coyote Cafe, a Mexican restaurant on Beverly Boulevard. On August 8, 1969, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, her boyfriend Wojciech Frykowski, actress Sharon Tate and Hollywood hair stylist Jay Sebring ate their last meal at El Coyote. Later that night they were murdered by the Manson Family.

Near the famous Capitol Records building is the Hotel Knickerbocker, a Hollywood landmark for almost a century. It was the site of ten seances conducted by Bess Houdini in hopes of contacting her late husband, magician Harry. Director D.W. Griffith and actor Willam Frawley both died in the hotel’s lobby. Costume designer Irene Gibbons threw herself out of an eleventh floor window at the Knickerbocker. She was distraught over her unrequited love for actor Gary Cooper. And it believed that the ghosts of Marilyn Monroe and Rudolph Valentino haunt the building. The Knickerbocker is now a retirement home.

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Don’t miss these other great cemetery visits:

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9 Comments

  1. I LOVE THIS! I was in Calf. in 2007 and went to Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in downtown LA. This too was an awesome find. Many beloved actors, musicans and inventors that touched our lives were there.
    We wanted to go to Forest Lawn but did not have the time. Maybe one day on a return trip.
    Thanks for the tour!

  2. While browsing around Google looking for portrait photos of celebrities. I came across your site. Let me just say you did an excellent job with this article. And you are definitely right, a trip to L.A. wouldn’t be complete without a visit to some of the local cemeteries. Where celebrities rest peacefully. Anyway let me just bring ya up to speed on who I am. I’m Josh Perry and I’m the blogger/podcaster who maintains The Gravecast Blog & Podcast website. I recently got back from my second trip to Los Angeles. I checked out many cemeteries in the area. If your interested in learning more about the hobby known as “Grave Hunting” feel free to checkout my blog. And again you did a superb job on this article. It makes me wish I was in L.A. again. Hopefully in due time I’ll be returning. Have a good one.

    Josh

  3. Hi! Great blog!! The name that was unceremoniously ripped from Liberace’s crypt was that of his brother! Lots of bad blood and that brother was a piece of work!!! He’s buried in San Fernando Mission Cemetery in a non-descript section – one of hundreds, just like his headstone, litter the cemetery.

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