Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary
6001 W. Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90045
Telephone: (310) 641-0707
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.
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.
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.
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:
Other graveyards of the Hollywood stars on Cemetery Travel: