Stargazing in L.A.: The Less-than-Lively Set
Almost everybody who visits L.A. hopes to see a celebrity -- they are, after all, the city's most common export. But celebrities usually don't cooperate, failing to gather in readily viewable herds. There is, however, an absolutely guaranteed method to approach within 6 feet of many famous stars. Cemeteries are the place for stargazing (or at least headstone gazing): The star is always available, and you're going to get a lot more up close and personal than you probably would to anyone who's actually alive. Here is a guide to the most fruitful cemeteries, listed in order of their friendliness to stargazers. If you're looking for someone in particular, log on to www.findagrave.com. (There's a website for everything.)
Weathered Victorian and Art Deco memorials add to the decaying charm of Hollywood Forever (formerly Hollywood Memorial Park), 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood (323/469-1181; www.hollywoodforever.com). Fittingly, there's a terrific view of the HOLLYWOOD sign over the graves, as many of the founders of the community rest here. The most notable tenant is Rudolph Valentino, who rests in an interior crypt. Outside are Mickey Rooney; Tyrone Power, Jr.; Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.; Cecil B. DeMille (facing Paramount, his old studio); Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer from The Little Rascals (the dog on his grave is not Petey); Hearst mistress Marion Davies; John Huston; and a headstone for Jayne Mansfield (she's really buried in Pennsylvania with her family). Hattie McDaniel wanted to be buried here, but the cemetery's then-owners wouldn't accept African Americans, so she was buried in Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery, near downtown. The current owners invited her family to move her here, but they refused. In 2000, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., joined his dad at Hollywood Forever. The best epitaph is for Mel Blanc, who voice Porky Pig: "That's all, Folks." Grab a map at the entrance for a self-guided tour.
The Catholic Holy Cross Cemetery, 5835 W. Slauson Ave., Culver City (310/836-5500; www.holycrossmortuary.com), founded in 1939, hands out maps to the stars' graves. In one area, within mere feet of each other, lie Bing Crosby, Bela Lugosi (buried in his Dracula cape), and Sharon Tate; not far away are Rita Hayworth and Jimmy Durante. Also here are "Tin Man" Jack Haley and "Scarecrow" Ray Bolger, Mary Astor, John Ford, and Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt. More recent arrivals include John Candy and Audrey Meadows.
The front office at Hillside Memorial Park, 6001 W. Centinela Ave., Baldwin Hills (800/576-1994; www.hillsidememorial.org), can provide a guide to this Jewish cemetery, which has an L.A. landmark: the behemoth tomb of Al Jolson. His rotunda, complete with a bronze reproduction of Jolson and a cascading fountain, is visible from I-405. Also on hand are Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Vic Morrow, and Michael Landon.
You just know developers get stomach aches looking at Westwood Village Memorial Park, 1218 Glendon Ave., Westwood (310/474-1579; www.pbwvmortuary.com), a pocket park smack-dab in the middle of some of L.A.'s priciest real estate (behind the AVCO office building south of Wilshire Blvd.). But it's not going anywhere, especially when you consider its most famous resident: Marilyn Monroe (entombed in a simple wall crypt, number 24). It's also got Truman Capote, Roy Orbison (unmarked), John Cassavetes, Armand Hammer, Donna Reed, Dean Martin, Don Knotts, Merv Griffin, and Natalie Wood. Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon are buried here as well, a fitting ending for the Odd Couple.
Forest Lawn Glendale, 1712 S. Glendale Ave. (800/204-3131; www.forestlawn.com), likes to pretend it has no celebrities. The most prominent of L.A. cemeteries, it's also the most humorless. The place is full of bad art, all part of the continuing vision of founder Huburt Eaton, who thought cemeteries should be happy places. So he banished those gloomy upright tombstones and monuments in favor of flat, pleasant, character-free, flush-to-the-ground slabs. Contrary to urban legend, Walt Disney was not frozen and placed under Cinderella's castle at Disneyland. His cremated remains are in a little garden to the left of the Freedom Mausoleum. Turn around, and just behind you are Errol Flynn and Spencer Tracy. In the Freedom Mausoleum itself are Nat "King" Cole, Chico Marx, Gummo Marx, and Gracie Allen—finally joined by George Burns, their grave reads "Together Again." In a columbarium near the Mystery of Life is Humphrey Bogart. Unfortunately, some of the best celebs—such as Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, and Jean Harlow—are in the Great Mausoleum. You can't get into its deepest reaches unless you're visiting a relative, but you can see some of the rooms nearest the entrance—including Elzabeth Taylor's gorgeous angel-topped tomb—by joining a viewing of the Last Supper in Stained Glass, which happens on the half-hour. You'd think a place that encourages people to visit for fun would understand what the attraction is. But no—Forest Lawn Glendale won't tell you where any of their illustrious guests are, so don't ask. This place is immense.
Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, 6300 Forest Lawn Dr. (800/204-3131; www.forestlawn.com) on the northern slopes of Griffith Park, is slightly less anal than the Glendale branch a few short miles away, but the same basic attitude prevails. On the right lawn, near the statue of George Washington, is Buster Keaton. In the Courts of Remembrance are Bette Davis (overlooking Warner Bros., the studio she felt she ran), Charles Laughton, and the not-quite-gaudy-enough tomb of Liberace. Outside, in a vault on the Ascension Road side, is Andy Gibb. Other celebs: John Ritter, Jack LaLane, Tom Bosley, Paul Walker, and Brittany Murphy. Gene Autry is also buried here, almost within earshot of the museum that bears his name.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.