Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Johnny California: Hollywood Forever Cemetery

 by JB

Excuse me while I shake the dust from my shoes; I just came from the cemetery!

Since moving to California, my wife and I have noticed a strange phenomenon that takes place whenever we host visitors. Somehow, no friends or family visiting Casa de JB can relax until they have seen the ocean. They don’t have to get into the ocean, mind you. They don’t even have to walk the sand. They simply have to see the damn thing; then they can relax and enjoy the rest of their trip. I guess one way you can tell that we have lived here for more than a year is that we already take the ocean completely for granted.

“Oh, that’s right. There it is. It’s that big blue thing right over there. On the left, whenever we go to Sea Fresh for fried shrimp...”

Recently we entertained some visitors who broke the mold. They had no desire to see the ocean. (Although they may have satisfied their brine-jones in Long Beach, which is where they spent some time before coming up the coast to us!) They knew what they wanted to see—old buildings and dead people. Both Lauren and Steve are big fans of Frank Lloyd Wright and wanted to see three famous and historical FLW houses that are Hollywood adjacent. Lauren and Steve also know the fun to be had in famous cemeteries. So off we went.
I had heard of Hollywood Forever Cemetery and its storied history. Suffice it to say that for decades it was owned by a heartless bandit who drained the place of almost 9 million dollars and allowed it to fall into an ugly state of disrepair. The story only has a happy ending because the cemetery’s new owners spent millions restoring the place to its former glory. Once a month, a group called Cinespia hosts a film screening there, projecting the movie onto the side of a mausoleum building on the Fairbanks lawn.


When you first arrive at Hollywood Forever, you are greeted by a vintage Rolls Royce Silver Cloud hearse. Peacocks roam the grounds freely. The place just drips with atmosphere. We chose to drive around the place quickly to get our bearings, then set off on foot and scooter to more closely explore. Hollywood Forever did not disappoint.
On our left was a monument and statue of Johnny Ramone; on our right was the final resting place of Mickey Rooney.
It was a glorious day, and the cemetery was so quiet and beautiful that I was instantly reminded of a favorite passage from the YA novel The Pigman by Paul Zindel. The book’s two protagonists at one point suggest that hospitals, grim places full of sterility and tragedy, would be better places for the dead. Cemeteries, full of trees and lakes and nature and life, would be better places for the sick to recuperate. I’ve never forgotten that...
My one quibble was that some parts of Hollywood Forever need to be more ADA compliant. I realize that it is an old cemetery, and that I shouldn’t expect my mobility scooter to triumph over grass, especially when said grass is wet. I realize that it’s a cemetery and the beautiful landscaping is part of it. However, there are mausoleums and crypts that are only accessible via flights of steps. What’s up with that?

We saw the final resting places of Peter Lorre, Fay Wray, and as befits the Christmas season, Edmund Gwenn. We visited the tomb of personal favorite Vito Scotti, a beloved character actor who had the distinction of appearing in both Gilligan’s Island and The Godfather! (He played Nazorine, the baker) He was a favorite of the producers of Columbo; he showed up there no less than five times. He died with over 230 acting credits: Life with Luigi, Schlitz Playhouse, Playhouse 90, Wagon Train, Where the Boys Are, The Twilight Zone, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rifleman, The Addams Family, The Munsters, Batman, The Monkees, The Flying Nun, Hogan’s Heroes, Ironside, Get Smart, The Aristocats, The Odd Couple, The Brady Bunch, The Six-Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, The Big Bus, Police Woman, Happy Days, Charlie’s Angels, and Get Shorty, to name a few. It was nice to visit his final resting place and pay our respects. Vito Scotti’s career virtually defines movie and television production in the late twentieth century.
Judy Garland has a wing of one of the mausoleums to herself. Real live munchkins, especially chosen for the task, guard her crypt 24/7. Okay, I made that last part up, but wouldn’t that be cool? There are chairs set up, and a podium that holds a guestbook. You can leave a message to Judy. I wonder how often she reads them? Judy’s memorial once again reminded me that she was only 47 when she passed away. Such a tragedy.

Then it was on to lunch at the Smokehouse Restaurant, just across the street from the Warner Brothers Studio, and like Hollywood Forever Cemetery, just dripping with atmosphere*. Try the garlic bread.
We then rounded out our day visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Ennis-Brown house (where both House on Haunted Hill and Blade Runner were filmed), the Storer House (filming location for The Rocketeer, later bought and restored by producer Joel Silver; his production company’s logo featured one of the house’s textile blocks from 1991 to 2005), and Hollyhock House (filming location for Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death). All three houses date to Wright’s “Mayan Revival Textile Block” period and are very distinctive and beautiful. I wish the current owners of the Ennis-Brown House would offer tours.

Such is part of the fun of living in California. We are constantly seeking out interesting spots to share with friends and family, and people are constantly suggesting places we must visit. Kind of makes you want to stay alive... and out of the cemetery.

*Really. On our most recent visit, some of said atmosphere dripped into my shrimp cocktail.

1 comment:

  1. Blade Runner? House on Haunted Hill? No, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death... now that is a classic. (It is a fun watch.)

    I have seen Hollywood Forever featured in programs. It looks like an interesting place. There are probably some other cemeteries in the L.A. area that are worth a visit for their Hollywood connections.