Classic Hollywood: Cemeteries of the stars
Steve Goldstein knows where all the famous bodies are buried.
By day, he’s a businessman who owns a payroll service. But in his off hours, he’s one of Hollywood’s best-known grave hunters. Author of “LA’s Graveside Companion: Where the V.I.P.s R.I.P” and creator of the website https://www.beneathlosangeles.com, Goldstein knows all the stories behind the stars and their final resting places.
So with Halloween approaching, what better way to spend All Hallows Eve than to visit the cemeteries to pay your respects to cinema’s legends? Recently, Goldstein led me in a personal tour of two of the most star-studded cemeteries: Hollywood Forever and Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park and Mortuary.
Sitting outside the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever, Goldstein explains that growing up in Boston as a history buff he loved roaming the cemeteries and reading gravestones from the 17th and 18th centuries.
That fascination moved with him when he moved to L.A. 36 years ago and began visiting local cemeteries. “I came across Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino here,” he says. “Then I went to Westwood one day looking for Marilyn Monroe. Over time you see that Natalie Wood and Dean Martin are there.”
The most popular tourist site at Hollywood Forever is Valentino’s crypt at the Cathedral Mausoleum. It’s tucked at the end of one of the aisles. On this day, the flowers next to his nameplate — Rodolfo Guglielmi Valentino 1895-1926 — had outlived their welcome; there was a fresh ruby-red kiss painted on the wall.
“It was meant to be temporary,” Goldstein says of the crypt. “They were supposed to build an elaborate memorial. The money never materialized. His family eventually brought the crypt from June Mathis’ family. Mathis was the screenwriter who discovered him and she died a year later and is now buried next to him.” (A memorial service is held for Valentino in the vestibule of the mausoleum every Aug. 23 at 12:10 p.m., the anniversary of his death.)
West of the mausoleum is the Fairbanks Lawn, a valley that features a pool leading to a lavish memorial for silent screen actor Douglas Fairbanks, who died in 1939. Just behind the memorial is where Cinespia screens movies on the weekends during the summer. The sarcophagus in front of the memorial now also houses the remains of his son, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who died in 2000.
Goldstein says he’s heard from an eyewitness that when they opened the sarcophagus to bury Junior that Fairbanks senior was still perfectly preserved 61 years after his death. “He was so embalmed, they must have used stronger chemicals.”
Walking across the road from the mausoleum, one finds a treasure trove of the famous, including the twin crypts of producer-director Cecil. B. DeMille and his wife; the resting place of MGM musical star Nelson Eddy; a simple marker commemorating the grave of Charlie Chaplin’s beloved mother, Hannah Chaplin, who died on a visit to Los Angeles in 1928. Marion Davies, the actress and mistress of publisher William Randolph Hearst, donated the grave site to Chaplin.
Nearby is a memorial for actor Tyrone Power, who died in 1958 of a heart attack while making “Solomon and Sheba.” Engraved on the bench at the grave is the “Goodnight sweet prince” speech from “Hamlet.” The phrase also adorns the Fairbanks Memorial, though now it says “Goodnight sweet princes” since the death of Fairbanks Jr.
On the other side of town, at the intimate Westwood Memorial, which is nestled behind the Avco Cinemas, is Marilyn Monroe’s crypt. Since her death in 1962 at age 36, the wall of her crypt has been replaced numerous times because of all the fans touching and kissing it. Hugh Hefner, who made Monroe his first Playboy centerfold, has bought the crypt to her right.
Just as with Valentino at Hollywood Forever, there is a memorial service held for Monroe every year on Aug. 5, the anniversary of her death.
In fact, Westwood, says Goldstein, is known as “the cemetery of tragic females” because so many buried there died at a young age. Besides Monroe, there’s Natalie Wood, Dorothy Stratten, Minnie Ripperton and Dominique Dunne.
Moving down to the southern part of the cemetery is George C Scott’s unmarked grave. Roy Orbison and Frank Zappa both have unmarked graves on the lawn. Near Scott are the final resting places for Walter Matthau and his second wife, Carol, as well as Farrah Fawcett.
In the row directly behind Matthau is his frequent costar Jack Lemmon. His gravestone simply says “Jack Lemmon in,” which Goldstein says was his billing from “Some Like It Hot.” To his right is Carroll O’Connor, and next to the man who was Archie Bunker is Lemmon and Matthau’s good friend and recurrent collaborator, director-writer-producer Billy Wilder, who got in the last laugh on his gravestone incorporating the final line from “Some Like It Hot”: “I’m a Writer but Then Nobody’s Perfect.”