Saturday, July 27, 2013

Hollywood Forever Cemetery: Where VIPs RIP

Right in the heart of Hollywood is one of Los Angeles' oldest cemetery. The 114 year-old cemetery is aptly named Hollywood Forever, for it was the chosen resting place by many starry VIPs.

No surprise there since the site is just next to Paramount Studios. And in addition, when one stands on the main driveway looking back to the front gates, the iconic Hollywood sign could clearly be seen.

Having a morbid interest in cemeteries (the older, the better), Red Dot Diva roped in good friend Chelle for a morning walk at Hollywood Forever last week. With the help of a $5 map purchased from the flower shop, the two set off to hunt down a few famous graves.

The cemetery grounds was larger than expected. It was a sprawling 60-acre site with well-manicured lawns, shady trees and peaceful lakes (complete with geese and duckies) - that if one did not notice the old-fashioned effigies dotted around the field and that some benches were actually gravemarkers, the cemetery looked just like a tranquil public park.

Certainly quite impressive where the large above-ground crypts made out of concrete, granite and/ or marble. They were an architectural beauty by themselves and being a huge "Buffy" fan, Red Dot Diva could not help but wonder if she visited one of these at night, vampire Spike might be seen leaning languidly against a column, smoking a cigarette.

The first famous resting place that Red Dot Diva and Chelle found belonged to the handsome swashbuckling father and son pair, Douglas Fairbanks and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Their opulent mausoleum stood quietly in their own corner called the Fairbanks lawn, looking onto a long reflective pool.

Just across from the Fairbanks was the distinctive headstone of punk rockstar Johnny Ramone of The Ramones. It was hard to miss the prominent carved bronze statue of Johnny holding a rock guitar. A little distance away, band mate DeeDee Ramone keeps Johnny company. 

Across the picturesque lake was the simple yet stately marble tomb of celebrated film director and producer Cecil B. DeMille. His name has been ingrained in Red Dot Diva's mind - thanks to the ad nausem repeated screenings of "The Ten Commandments" during her 10 years of primary and secondary school at a small Anglican girls' school.

It was interesting to note that the DeMille tomb was actually a family grouping. His wife Constance lies to his left in a similar looking grave and his brother William, a playright and director is in the urn in the middle. Sister-in-law, Clara Beranger's grave marker is just in front of William. 

While searching the grass patch behind the DeMille tombs for sex symbol Jayne Mansfield's headstone, Red Dot Diva and Chelle stumbled upon the grave of actor-comedian Don Adams - best known for his role in the TV sitcom "Get Smart", and was the legendary voice of Inspector Gadget.

They checked the headstones around vicinity but failed to notice Jayne Mansfield's simple marker near the lake. Mainly because Red Dot Diva had thought that it was a heart-shaped grave. A mistake on her part for that prominent headstone was actually in Pennsylvania, and only a cenotaph marker was placed in Hollywood Forever.

By then, it was past noon and the stifling summer heat was getting to Red Dot Diva (who might have been suffering from small bout of jet lag). She and Chelle had been having fun grave-hunting that they only just realized they were running late for a lunchtime appointment in Venice.

A pity. For that did not allow the two ladies enough time to explore the entire Hollywood Forever Cemetery, especially the giant Cathedral Mausoleum across the other side. Hence, they sadly missed out on visiting the other notable graves and crypts of Fay Wray, Rudolph Valentino, Mel Brooks, Peter Finch and mobster Bugsy Malone. Or even Terry, that cute little furball who played Toto from "The Wizard of Oz".

While walking back to the entrance, they noticed that there was an unusually large number of East European graves, many of which date back to the early 1900's. The cemetery was also a very active grave site, for there were families quietly chatting while gathered around the decorated tombs of their loved ones.

Red Dot Diva thinks that the Hollywood Forever Cemetery warrants another more leisurely visit. It is a beautiful place, and there is a certain fascinating connection one senses between the dead and the living; a feeling that time begins to blur between the past and present.

The next time she decides to wander around Hollywood Forever, Red Dot Diva might take a historical walking tour with a guide Karie Bible. Or perhaps, catch an outdoor movie screening under the stars, accompanied by some very famous mates.

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