It’s not easy spotting stars in Hollywood. Maybe you’ll see one catching a matinee at the Arclight or behind big sunglasses at Sunday’s Farmers’ Market. (Hey, wasn’t that Johnny Depp having lunch at Musso & Frank’s?) But if you really want to get close to the stars – say, six feet or so – there’s no better place than Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Just don’t expect any autographs. Founded as Hollywood Memorial Park in 1899 by gentlemen named Lankershim and Van Nuys (both of whom wound up with namesake communities and streets in the San Fernando Valley), the cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard actually predates the film studios including Columbia and Warner Bros that eventually surrounded it. Part of Paramount Pictures occupies more than 60 acres of its original grounds. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Hollywood Forever is the permanent home of an astonishing array of film and TV stars including Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer and Darla Hood of Our Gang, Iron Eyes Cody, Peter Lorre, Jayne Mansfield, Tyrone Power, Adolphe Menjou, Don Adams, all three Ritz Brothers, Maila Nurmi (the original “Vampira”), Darren McGavin and Estelle Getty; musicians including Nelson Riddle, Skinnay Ennis, jazzmen Art Pepper and Woody Herman, film composer Victor Young; directors Cecil B. DeMille, Zoltan Korda, John Huston, and Edgar G. Ulmer; studio chiefs Jesse Lasky (Paramount) and Harry Cohn (Columbia). Griffith J. Griffith, who gifted Los Angeles with Griffith Park, is buried in Hollywood Forever, as are pioneers of the community of Hollywood including Cornelius Cole and Harvey Henderson Wilcox, whose wife, Daeida, named the town, and early Los Angeles Times’ Harrison Gray Otis and Harry Chandler. Though strongly identified with New York City, both Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone rest in Hollywood Forever, as do fellow punk-rockers Tomata duPlenty of The Screamers, and Christian Death’s Rozz Williams. Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, is buried not far from the ashes of Las Vegas visionary Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. British actor Peter Finch is steps away from silent film star Rudolph Valentino, and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Jr. rest together forever, as do Norma, Constance and Natalie Talmadge. But its celebrity-filled permanent population is not the only reason to visit Hollywood Forever. Tyler Cassity, whose Forever Enterprises operates several cemeteries in California and the Midwest, purchased and renamed the run-down property in 1998.
In addition to spending millions of dollars renovating Hollywood Forever, Cassity brought in an old friend, Jay Boileau, to create additional interest. The result is a series of events, many of them recurring, that, in the words of senior vice president Homer Alba, “cater to the living.” The cemetery is also a familiar location for TV’s productions including Girlfriends, Brothers and Sisters, Nip/Tuck, and was frequently seen in the cable series Six Feet Under. It is also the site of annual memorial services for Tyrone Power, Valentino, and Johnny Ramone. Much of the history of the cemetery and its occupants from Hollywood’s founders, to silent film stars, the famous and infamous is covered in a two hour walking tour. Maps are also available in the cemetery’s gift shop.
Last year, a troupe produced A Midsummer Night’s Dreamand Hamlet as “Shakespeare in the Cemetery,” an experiment that may be revived next year.But perhaps the best known recurring event at Hollywood Forever is the series of weekend film screenings promoted by John Wyatt of Cinespia. Since 2002, films ranging from Broadway Melody of 1933 to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure to Blue Velvet are projected on the side of a mausoleum. The event, virtually unadvertised though written up in the likes of Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, draws something like 1,500 fans per show, at $10 per. Viewers are encouraged to bring food and drink, a DJ spins records, and parking is available on the grounds for $5/car – one of Hollywood’s better parking deals!
On Thursday, October 30, from 5:30-8:30 p.m., the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Community Foundation will hold its seventh annual “All Hallows Eve” fundraiser.. There will be tarot card and palm readers, along with Halloween makeup artists, strolling performers, food samplings from local restaurants, and tours. (Call (323)469- 8311 for information and ticket prices or visit
.) Two nights later, November 1, Hollywood Forever will host its 9th annual Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebration. A traditional holiday in Latin communities, the day is an opportunity “to honor whoever you respect or love who has died,” says Deisy Marquez. Born and raised in Mexico, Marquez noticed that “People from Mexico living in Los Angeles don’t celebrate their culture, so I thought that the Day of the Dead would be perfect.” She, her sister Adela, and friend Celine Marez approached Tyler Cassity. “He’d just bought the cemetery, and told me they were open to events from different cultures.” (Hollywood Forever has areas dedicated to Buddhist rites, Armenian and Russian memorials, and even Confederate Army veterans, as well as the attached Jewish cemetery, Beth Olam).
At first people could not understand how she could do such an event at a cemetery, not realizing that that’s part of the tradition. “It was difficult getting the word out. Tyler told us not to worry; if we got 100-200 people, he’d be happy.” Traditionally, people create temporary altars in memory of whomever they’re honoring. “The first year we had three that we made up ourselves,” Marquez says, “We had a small stage and a Mass and maybe 1,500 people showed up. The second year, people began making their own altars and we had 5,000 people.” Last year, says Jay Boileau, 20,000 people attended the Day of the Dead ceremony. “One hundred and fifty altars are built each year; we’ve introduced prizes for outstanding ones. There are food vendors and a stage with musical and dance performances.” Hollywood Forever is located at 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. (323) 469-9933. Regular visiting hours are between 9 a.m. and sundown.
For additional information, visit www.hollywoodforever.com. For information on the Day of The Dead celebration, visit www.ladyofthedead.com; for special guided cemetery tours email email@example.com or visit www.cemeterytour.com; and for the film series, visit