Cemetery of the Week #45: Hillside Memorial Park

Jacob wrestles the angel at Hillside Memorial Park

Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary
6001 W. Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90045
Telephone: (310) 641-0707
Established: 1946
Size: 40 acres
Number of interments: over 60,000
Open: Sunday through Friday 8 p.m.-5 p.m. Hillside is closed Saturdays and all Jewish Holy Days.

Al Jolson, star of the original talking picture, has one of the most ostentatious graves in Southern California. After Douglas Fairbanks’ shrine with its white marble columns and reflecting pool at Hollywood Forever, that’s saying something.

Just inside the gateway at Hillside Memorial Park, the Jolson monument is impossible to miss. In fact, Permanent Californians reports that the monument has become a landmark along the San Diego Freeway. A two-story waterfall (unfortunately switched off for repairs during my visit) steps five blue-tiled levels down the hillside. On the grassy knoll at the head of the falls stands a round Grecian-style temple like the temple of Athena at Delphi. The six white marble columns blazed in the SoCal sun. Apparently, Jolson’s third wife paid $75,000 for the monument in 1950: the same amount Fairbanks’ widow spent on his shrine.

Al Jolson’s momument

Jolson’s grave is the antithesis of the modern mausoleum. Its columns soar skyward, supporting a brilliantly colored mosaic of Moses resting the Ten Commandments (written out in Hebrew) against his shoulder. Surrounding the mosaic runs the inscription, “Sweet singer of Israel, man raised up high”: King David’s last words from the second book of Samuel.

Inside Jolson’s monument

I’d mistakenly expected the nearby bronze statue of Jolson — down on one knee, arms flung wide — to be gigantic. Instead, it was less than life-size. He smirked as if he’d just belted out, “Mammy, how I love ya, how I love ya!” His blackface performance is not one of American film’s finest moments. It might be justly forgotten, without the benefit of being the first motion picture with sound — and if not for this amazing display of funerary art, which was designed by the first African American Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

Also buried at Hillside are Shelley Winters (whom you’ll remember from the original Poseidon Adventure) and Moe Howard (boss of The Three Stooges), Michael Landon (of TV’s Little Home of the Prairie) and his TV father, cowboy Lorne Greene, and television pioneers Milton Berle, Jack Benny, and Dinah Shore.

Vic Morrow, star of Humanoids from the Deep and The Bad News Bears, hadn’t made an impression on me until his last film. The 1983 Twilight Zone movie wasn’t good or particularly scary, but it had the pre-release publicity that Morrow had sacrificed his life to make it. As John Landis illegally filmed his climactic Vietnam sequence one night, Morrow carried two kids across a simulated rice paddy in the Santa Clara River. One of the FX explosions went off too close to the helicopter above them and swatted it out of the sky. The rotors sliced through Morrow, decapitating him and dismembering both children.

Permanent Californians gave us only the vaguest coordinates to Morrow’s grave, limiting our search to Block 5 of the Mt. Olive section. Finally, as I was about to give up the hunt, I stumbled across Morrow’s headstone. Eloquent in its simplicity, it said only, “I loved him as ‘Dad.’ To everyone else, he was ‘Vic.’”

I blinked back tears. Facing his tombstone, I was forced to consider the family and friends he’d left behind. Vic Morrow was loved and missed. My reasons to visit him would have appalled his survivors. Chastened, I left a pebble on his grave.

Useful links:

The cemetery’s homepage (not updated recently)

PDF guide to Hillside’s Distinguished Residents

A beautiful photo gallery

Information about the sculpture of Jacob wrestling with the angel

Seeing Stars entry on the celebrities of Hillside

GPS information on CemeteryRegistry.us

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Hillside:

Permanent Californians

Laid to Rest in California

Other graveyards of the Hollywood stars on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #5: Hollywood Forever

Cemetery of the Week #14: the Original Forest Lawn

Cemetery of the Week #40: Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #51: Angelus Rosedale Cemetery

 

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. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
This entry was posted in Cemetery of the Week, Famous person's grave and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Cemetery of the Week #45: Hillside Memorial Park

  1. I have meandered the cemetery in the past and found it to be quite beautiful…but I’d like to go back with fresh eyes! I learned a lot reading this post. So interesting! Debra

  2. Pingback: Cemetery of the Week #40: Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery | Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World

  3. Pingback: Cemetery of the Week #51: Angelus Rosedale Cemetery | Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World

  4. Pingback: Cemetery of the Week #109: Holy Cross Cemetery | Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World

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