Cemetery of the Week #5 — Hollywood Forever — is hosting its 12th annual Dia de los Muertos celebration today from noon to midnight.
The heart of the festivities is represented by the altars to the beloved dead, which compete for several thousand dollars. The celebration also includes Mayan and Aztec rituals, dancing, a procession, a costume contest, and face painting for the kids.
Among those buried at Hollywood Forever are 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. More recently, they’ve been joined by Rozz Williams, Dee Dee Ramone, Yma Sumac, Darrin McGavin (TheNight Stalker), and Fay Wray.
Founded in 1899, Hollywood Forever is a 64-acre park in the heart of Hollywood, truly unlike any other cemetery in the world. You can join Hollywood Forever’s Facebook friends here.
At her death in 1952, Hattie McDaniel’s last wish had been to be buried at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery. She belonged amidst the glittering stars of Hollywood, alongside Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, and Tyrone Power. After all, she had been the first Black woman to sing on the radio. Her career spanned over 300 movies, but she is best remembered for playing Scarlett’s Mammy in Gone with the Wind. Thanks to that role, McDaniel was 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 in Hollywood Forever. 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. When I visited, someone had placed a garland of bright silk flowers around the column’s foot.
Yet another beautifully illustrated collection of photos of famous people’s graves, this one focuses on predominantly American musicians of the late 20th century. Special attention is paid to the tokens visitors leave on their pilgrimages: guitar picks, empty liquor bottles, unsmoked cigarettes. I was pretty thoroughly fascinated.
As with any collection of grave monuments, one could quibble with the inclusions: John Belushi as a legend of rock? At least the story of his funeral and three graves is interesting. Was Easy E a rock star? Minnie Ripperton? Karen Carpenter?
I suspect that the problem with filling the book was that so many musicians’ families — aware of the ongoing problems at Morrison’s grave in Paris — have opted not to release their loved ones’ ashes and/or to announce a gravesite where fans could pay their respects. Beatles’ fans have Strawberry Fields in Central Park, but there’s some question about whether Yoko had John’s remains buried or scattered at all. The same holds true for Kurt Cobain: I’ve read elsewhere that fans go to a bench in a park near the house where he died to remember him, but that isn’t mentioned in this book at all. Is the story true, but just not widely known?
If you’re interested in mortuary commemoration or people’s relationships with cemeteries — or, I’ll include grudgingly, musicians of the past — this book is for you.
This is a great idea, though poorly executed. The concept of this book came to the authors when they visited the grave of Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas in Paris, where they had a religious experience. They hoped this book would “encourage readers to discover the joys of pilgrimage.” Unfortunately, while they may name the cemetery where the object of pilgrimage waits, they don’t provide burial ground addresses. Also absent were actual birth and death dates, so you could time your pilgrimage symbolically. Most sorely missed: the book doesn’t even describe the tombstones.
Rather than focusing on graveyards, as implied in the title, this directory is filled with generally unenlightening capsule biographies. “The Wright Brothers owned a successful chain of small bicycle shops but were consumed by the idea of flying.” Really? Luckily, the writers succeed better when they pursue agendas: “this Puritan minister helped establish intolerance as a way of American life” (Cotton Mather) or “although he denied having AIDS, an autopsy proved otherwise. The Liberace Museum charges six dollars a head and its attendance rivals Graceland’s” or “Novelist, playwright, feminist, and lesbian” (Virginia Woolf).
I found additional frustration in the incompleteness of the book’s choice of subjects. It lists Bela Lugosi (Holy Cross, Southern California) and Peter Lorre (Hollywood Memorial Park, ditto), but not Boris Karloff. How can they mention Harvey Milk (whose ashes were scattered), but not Dan White (buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery)? Many of those included must be personally significant: Typhoid Mary, Nixon’s spaniel Checkers (Bide-a-Wee Pet Cemetery, Long Island), Anthony Trollope (Can you name anything he wrote?), and Joan Hackett (Even knowing that she starred in Will Penny doesn’t help me). Did you need to know that Charlie McCarthy (Edgar Bergen’s dummy) was not buried, but is displayed at the Smithsonian?
In terms of death lore, the book’s scope is once again limited. It reports correctly that Jayne Mansfield is buried in Pennsylvania, but doesn’t mention her plaque at Hollywood Memorial Park, where rumor says black magic rituals are performed. There’s no reference to the Walt Disney cryogenics controversy, only a note that he lies beneath Forest Lawn.
One of my favorite elements of the book was a reader’s annotation — this was a library book — which said that while Frank Lloyd Wright had been buried in an unmarked grave in Wisconsin, as the authors reported, his widow moved his remains to Arizona. I’m not the only person catching omissions.
The authors’ biographies said they were working, in 1991, on a second volume. I hope they’ve learned from the first.
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