Tag Archives: Hillside Memorial Park

Your first guide to the cemeteries of Los Angeles

Forever L.A: A Field Guide To Los Angeles Area Cemeteries & Their ResidentsForever L.A: A Field Guide To Los Angeles Area Cemeteries & Their Residents by Douglas Keister

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the best guide to the cemeteries of Los Angeles yet. Jammed with Douglas Keister’s beautiful color photographs — all exquisitely printed — the book weighs more than the other guides, which might make it prohibitive to drag around a graveyard with you, if you’re juggling a camera and notebook, too. If you’re just sightseeing, this is the book for you. All the color headstone photos make it easy to know exactly what you’re looking for.

However, the book is short on history of the graveyards. Permanent Californians is better for that, as well as more fully developed biographies of the biggest stars. Forever L.A. also focuses on fewer celebrities; if you want a more comprehensive list, Laid to Rest in California is the book you want.

In addition, Forever L.A. suffers from puzzling organization. You can read the section on Westwood Village Memorial Park, but the text directs you elsewhere in the book to the listing for Don Knotts and somewhere else again to read about Marilyn Monroe. In fact, Marilyn’s biography snuggles up against one for Joe DiMaggio, who isn’t buried in L.A. at all. I guess this just proves my contention that any collection of gravestones is necessarily going to be idiosyncratic and reflect the predilections of the person compiling it.

I see what Keister was doing when he collected together all the stars of The Wizard of Oz or Bonanza or It’s a Mad, Mad (etc.) World, but I found it frustrating not to have all the cemetery information gathered into the appropriate chapter when I was standing in the graveyard. Is this book meant for armchair travelers or people in the field?

And why is the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland included at all? While the photos are lovely, the section takes up valuable book real estate that could have been used by Angelus Rosedale, where Hattie McDaniel is buried and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was filmed.

Still, if you are traveling to L.A. and want to visit graveyards, I suggest you start with this book. It’s the most recent and has by far the prettiest pictures. You just might want to dip into the other books for more depth after you get home.

Start your collection of L.A. cemetery guides here: Forever L.A.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

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