Cemetery of the Week #5: Hollywood Forever

Hollywood Forever is quintessential Southern California.

Hollywood Forever
6000 Santa Monica Blvd.
Hollywood, California
Telephone: (323) 469-1181
Email: info@hollywoodforever.com
Established: 1899
Size: 62 acres
Number of interments: 86,000
Open: Every day 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

2009 was Hollywood Memorial Park’s 110th year, which makes it the oldest surviving graveyard in Los Angeles. Once the height of fashionable final addresses in the Los Angeles area, Hollywood Memorial Park, also called the Cemetery of the Immortals, served as the final resting place for Peter Lorre, Cecil B. DeMille, Tyrone Power, Mel Blanc (whose headstone reads, “That’s all Folks!”), director John Huston, and many others from the fledgling film industry.

In the late 20th century, the cemetery fell on hard times, especially after the 1994 Northridge earthquake destroyed monuments and damaged the mausoleum, throwing over the marble statues of the apostles and shattering the stained glass skylights. In stepped Tyler Cassity, who had grand plans for making cinematic history turn a profit. He started by legally shedding the dignified (if funereal) Memorial Park and changing the cemetery’s name to Hollywood Forever.

One of the most inspiring restorations is the spiffed-up Douglas Fairbanks monument. In true Hollywood style, Fairbanks’s widow paid $75,000 in 1939 ($1.2 million in today’s dollars) for a marble sarcophagus raised in front of a classical Greek wall adorned with a bronze silhouette of the actor. Running up to the shrine is a 100-foot reflecting pool. In the past, the pool had been full of litter rotting beneath a scum of algae. Now bright water lilies bloom there.

More impressive is the pink granite column standing on the edge of the central lake. At her death in 1952, Hattie McDaniel’s last wish had been to be buried at Hollywood Memorial. After all, she had been the first Black woman to sing on the radio and her career spanned over 300 movies. Most remembered for playing Scarlett’s Mammy in Gone with the Wind, McDaniel had been the first African-American recipient of an Academy Award. She belonged among the cinematic pioneers — but was rejected because of the color of her skin.

In October 1999, nearly 50 years after her death, that indignity was commemorated — if not made right — by the placement of a cenotaph to her memory. McDaniel’s grave remains undisturbed in Rosedale Cemetery (where she broke the color barrier), but now she has a monument among the immortals, as she wished.

Another legend has long rested in Hollywood Forever. Rudolph Valentino lies in a vault toward the back of the mausoleum. When he died suddenly of a perforated ulcer and ruptured appendix in 1926, mourners thronged the graveyard. For years, women in black left roses at his marker.

Hollywood Forever has assembled a video scrapbook to Valentino’s memory. Consisting of publicity stills, newspaper clippings, QuickTime film clips — all accompanied by a musical soundtrack — the short video tribute gives a greater appreciation for the beauty and talent of the legendary screen lover. Newspaper stories, clear enough to be legible, float above a background of mourning badges and film reels. My only criticism? It would have been nice to have the film clips captioned, so viewers could track down the complete movies themselves.

One of the most popular ways the cemetery continues to draw people in is by showing movies on its mausoleum wall on summer evenings, keeping the memories of its permanent residents alive.

Also well-attended is its Dia de los Muertos celebration. The community comes together to build huge altars. Attendees are encouraged to dress up as skeletons. South and Central American dancers and musicians perform. This year’s event is scheduled for October 22.

Show biz icons of the current day also call Hollywood Forever their final home. Rozz Williams, singer for Christian Death, has a niche covered in lipstick kisses in the new columbarium. Both Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone have monuments near the lake. Hollywood Forever once again conveys immortality. The famous are dying to get in.

Useful links:

Hollywood Forever Cemetery homepage

Hollywood Forever on Facebook

Join their event mailing list.

Hattie McDaniel’s cenotaph

GPS information from CemeteryRegistry.us

My adventures at the 2011 Day of the Dead

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Hollywood Forever:

Permanent Californians

Laid to Rest in California

American Resting Place

And it’s featured in:

WYWH_BannerAd

About Loren Rhoads

I am the author of the essay collection Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, co-author of the novel As Above, So Below, and editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. My science fiction trilogy, The Dangerous Type, will be published by Night Shade in 2015. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
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9 Responses to Cemetery of the Week #5: Hollywood Forever

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