In death they do not part -- in fact, they have a party
Some of the guests were a bit dubious when the invitation arrived: You are selectively invited to attend a very special event to honor the longtime partnership of Bernardo Puccio and Orin Kennedy at the dedication of their monument and red carpet premiere of the personal documentary Two Hearts Two Souls .... Lakeside in the Garden of Legends, Hollywood Forever.”
“I said, ‘I’m not going to that ... thing,” recalled Shelly Lehrer, a diminutive but peppery 77-year-old eyewear manufacturer from Tarzana. “I thought it was crazy. Morbid.”
For the record:
12:00 AM, Jun. 15, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 15, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Hollywood Forever: An article in Tuesday’s Calendar about a couple who held a party at a cemetery said Scotty Bowers was the caterer. The event was catered by Judith Amdur.
“What did I think? Don’t ask,” said Mr. Blackwell, the tart-tongued fashion critic. “Nothing they do surprises me.”
Former local news anchor and novelist Kelly Lange wasn’t sure whether the occasion called for irony. She had met Puccio and Kennedy through her friend Marilyn Lewis of Hamburger Hamlet and Kate Mantilini fame, so she asked Lewis for advice: “Should I show up in a big black hat and a veil with a rose?”
Leonard Sands, a Beverly Hills litigator, hadn’t even realized that Hollywood Forever is a cemetery. He showed up in white pants, a white shirt and a very chic lavender corduroy sports coat. “You’re dressed inappropriately,” another guest chided. “Well, so is the corpse,” said Sands, referring to Kennedy, who wore a brilliant turquoise jacket with a multi-colored striped shirt and white pants.
At that moment, Kennedy, with the flick of a remote, turned on the music (Johnny Mathis, “The Twelfth of Never”) and prepared to unveil the monument, which had been draped in white silk and swagged with a deep purple sash. Puccio stood nearby, soigne in a black suit with a rhinestone-studded tie and perfect makeup. “Bernardo is very Versace,” said Kennedy. “I am very Polo.”
“Dearly beloved,” someone joked.
So, yes, things were a little discombobulating at the beginning of the Sunday evening party. (“I said hello, then I wasn’t sure what to say,” said Lange.) And there were some silly jokes. (“We’re going to an after-party,” said Sands. “It’s an exhumation.”)
It was purely a happy coincidence that the event was taking place on the day of West Hollywood’s famous Gay Pride Parade, said Kennedy. And even though Puccio and Kennedy, who have been together 30 years, don’t consider themselves particularly political, they were motivated to end their lives with an exclamation point in expensive Carrara marble so people would know that “we proudly -- proudly -- walked this Earth together.”
When they come to their final resting place, they will be in celebrated company, surrounded by the earthly remains of Tyrone Power, Marion Davies, Fay Wray, John Huston and both Douglas Fairbankses. And though comparing monument sizes might be less than tasteful, boys will be boys. “Tyrone Power’s is minuscule compared to mine,” said Puccio.
Most of the 50 or so guests were upscale, older married couples who had known the men for decades. Many were clients of Puccio, 62, an interior designer who looks so much like Tony Curtis that the two high-fived when they bumped into each other once at Spago. Some had professional ties to Kennedy, 67, a retired location manager who worked for years on David E. Kelley’s TV shows and is a founder of the Location Managers Guild of America. The couple, who live in a Westwood condo, also do event planning and private parties. And both, despite the setting, say they are in good health.
“No one, to our knowledge, has taken this approach -- to celebrating life in a cemetery,” Kennedy said a few days before the party. “We’ve always celebrated things in a big way. Any excuse to have a party.”
“This hasn’t been done before,” said Puccio, who considers himself a trendsetter. “I was the originator of the black T-shirt under a sports coat,” he pointed out. “I did that before anyone else.”
“I recently read that Hugh O’Brian is getting married at Forest Lawn,” said Audrey Bornstein, referring to the well-known octogenarian actor. “So maybe this is a new trend.”
After the monument was revealed to be a classical shape with columns and an urn that contains the remains of their beloved white cat Cristal, guests were led into the Hollywood Cathedral Mausoleum, a crypt that holds, among others, the remains of Rudolph Valentino. They crowded into hard wooden pews, and the hourlong biographical film began.
Several years ago, after Tyler Cassity rescued it from bankruptcy, Hollywood Forever began making video biographies of the deceased and pre-deceased, which can be viewed at kiosks in the cemetery, or online at www.forevernetwork.com (the Puccio and Kennedy video life story will be posted this week.) The cemetery’s production arm, Forever Studios, produced the film, which follows its subjects from Brooklyn (Kennedy) and Birmingham, Ala., (Puccio) to Hollywood, where both, as boys, had dreamed of living.
“I arrived in 1968 with 13 unmatched suitcases and my poodle,” says Puccio, whose first name, Bernard, was continentalized by his friend Lana Turner, who added the final vowel.
Kennedy was born Daniel Fuchs. He rechristened himself when he moved to Hollywood to pursue an acting career (it fizzled). “I am a product of the period where if you change your name, you may as well be a Kennedy,” he said. “And Orin was the name of a model in New York I had a crush on and I figured when I moved to California, he wouldn’t mind.”
The film featured a story line about the creation and installation of the monument, which was fabricated in China, set to the theme from “Six Feet Under” interspersed with family snapshots and home video and interviews with the couple and their friends. In one scene, actress Ruta Lee toasts them. In another, Puccio explains how it takes him up to a week to set an elaborate dinner party table. It provoked scattered tears and knowing laughs -- particularly during a riff on bickering.
“Remember this is a love story,” Kennedy says.
“It could be a tragedy also,” Puccio replies.
“He thinks it’s a decorating video -- that it’s about him,” counters Kennedy. “He screamed at me that I was taking up too much room.”
Puccio rolls his eyes.
There was one ovation in the middle of the film -- for Scotty Bowers, the indispensable caterer who handles dinners and parties for Puccio and Kennedy, and who was on hand Sunday, flitting around with trays of skewered chicken, smoked salmon on toast and tiny lemon bars and brownies.
Afterward, Ada Sands, an attorney in practice with her husband, Leonard, stood on the steps of the crypt, sipping wine, mulling the whole event. “I came in here with an attitude,” she said. “What the hell is this? Why are we here? There was a risk of it being maudlin or narcissistic, but it turned out to be an incredibly interesting experience, with a lot of introspection. It transformed me.”
“It was a lesson in love and understanding,” said Mr. Blackwell. “I wish we had more of it.”