Sunday, March 26, 2006
L.A.visit - West Los Angeles
The Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park (1218 Glendon Avenue, south of Wilshire, in Westwood, 310-474-1579)
Visiting any of Los Angeles’ cemeteries makes for a unique (and to some, morbid), visit with the famously dead. Stand where their famous friends stood, place flowers where a famous spouse might have and consummate a dead celebrity obsession that has been going on for some time now.
Just a headstone’s throw from UCLA and Westwood Village, sits the final resting-place for many of the famously dead. The Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park is home to an eclectic group of actors, musicians, filmmakers, and other famous mortals. Visitors may be surprised and puzzled as to whom they’ll find buried in Westwood.
As a reminder, please keep in mind that cemetaries are not museums. Families for both the famous and non visit as well. So maintain an un-L.A. attitude that is both respectful and discrete.
Marilyn Monroe’s (1926 – 1962) life and death is thought of as one of tragedy and mystery. With cause of death declared as an overdose of Nembutal, a barbiturate, the coroner signed it off as probable suicide. But missing personal documents (including her diary) and the sudden stop of the investigation to her death, along with missing phone records, a lost routine death report, the quick destruction of organ specimens, and lack of remaining medical photos, lead many to believe murder as a more probable cause. (Corridor of Memories, #24)
Famous for her angelic face and catchy mantra, “they’re here” from Poltergeist, Heather O’Rourke (1975 – 1988) died at the age of 13 of intestinal stenosis. The story is that she was discovered by Steven Spielberg in the MGM commissary. (New Mausoleum, outside along the bottom)
The death of Dominique Dunne (1959 – 1982) follows a trend started in such films as Rebel Without A Cause and The Barbarian where many cast members of an entire film die unexpectedly. On-screen sister of Heather O’Rourke's in Poltergeist, Dominique Dunne, daughter of Vanity Fair writer cum laude, Dominick Dunne, was strangled in her driveway by her estranged boyfriend. (Section D, #189)
As previously mentioned, the untimely and strange deaths of celebrities can affect an entire film’s cast. Natalie Wood’s (1938 – 1981) death off Catalina Island completes the trinity of dead prinicipal cast members from A Rebel Without A Cause. Preceded by Porsche-crashing James Dean and the murdered Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood’s body was found floating in the Pacific Ocean, dressed only in a nightgown, woolen socks, and a red down jacket (Section D, #60).
Although a supporting cast member of A Rebel Without A Cause, Jim Backus’s (1913 – 1989) death was neither sudden nor strange. Better known for his roles as the Millionaire in Gilligan’s Island and the lead voice of the animated cartoon Mr. Magoo, Jim Backus died of Pneumonia and Parkinson’s disease. (Section D, #203)
Maybe one of the last people expected to be buried in L.A., let alone Westwood, Truman Capote (1924 – 1984), Southern Gothic novelist, journalist, and darling-about-town, is entombed a number of steps from that cute pixie, Heather O’Rourke. Allegedly, his cremated remains were in the possession of dear friend, JoAnne Carson (ex-wife of Johnny Carson). when they were stolen along with her jewelry. Although later returned, sans jewelry, half of his ashes now reside at Westwood Village, while the other half remains in Ms. Carson’s possession. (New Mausoleum)
Big Band drummer extroidinaire, Buddy Rich (1916 – 1986) had the natural knack and rythmn to be what many consider as the greatest drummer of all time. Raised by vaudvillian parents, Buddy Rich picked up the drums at a young age and became a child star known as “Traps, The Drum Wonder”. Roommates with Frank Sinatra during the Big Band era, Buddy Rich was a member of Tommy Dorsey’s Band and was especially known for being “resoundingly disliked”, to put it nicely. (Sanctuary of Tranquility)
Burt Lancaster (1913 – 1994) didn’t start acting until he was in his 30’s, which may be part of what led him to take greater control of his career. He is perhaps best known for his performances in Birdman of Alcatraz, From Here To Eternity, and Elmer Gantry, the latter winning him an Academy Award for his performance opposite Shirley Jones.
Another performer who died at a young age, Minnie Ripperton (1947 – 1979), is most famous for her song "Loving You". She died at the age of 31, of breast cancer. (Section D, #41).
Remembered for her performances in It’s A Wonderful Life and From Here To Eternity, Donna Reed came to Los Angeles at the age of 16 to complete her education and become an actress. Although she was in over 40 films during her career, she will probably be best known as the quintessential 50’s T.V. mom in the show that bore her name, The Donna Reed Show. She passed away from Pancreatic Cancer at the age of 65. (Section D, #142)
At the opposite end of the cultural icon spectrum from Donna Reed lies Playboy model, Dorothy Stratten (1960 – 1980). Before her death, she entered the acting world via the sci-fi comedy Galaxina, but the world came to know her more through the film story of her life, Star 80. Although the sentiment rings true, Dorothy Stratten’s headstone is a/the unique example of a rambling and contradictory epitaph. (Section D, #170)
One of rock and roll’s most diverse, satirical, and non-conformist renegades, Frank Zappa (1940 – 1993) is buried in an unmarked section of the cemetery. Known for his distrust of authority both on the record and on the record, he lead the charge against the Parents Music Resource Center, calling them “a group of bored Washington housewives” who wanted to “housebreak all composers and performers because of the lyrics of a few.” He died of prostate cancer. (Section D, #100, unmarked)
Texan rocker Roy Orbison (1936 – 1988) follows Westwood Memorial’s rocker trend by being buried in an unmarked area of the cemetery. Although he knew of his heart troubles for a while, Roy Orbison refused to cut short his exhausting comeback tour. He died of a massive heart attack. (Section D, #97, unmarked)
Although her grave doesn’t give her birth date, it is believed that Eva Gabor (1921/1922 – 1995) was 74 when she died.
Best known for the television and radio versions of the play, Our Miss Brooks, Eve Arden (1908 – 1990) is also remembered for her portrayals in Stage Door, Mildred Pierce, and the film version of Grease. (Section D, #81)
One of the last of the 1930’s male stars, Lew Ayres (1908 – 1996), may be remembered by some audiences for his work in the 70’s and 80’s on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Highway To Heaven, Damien: Omen II, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Others may remember him as Dr. James Kildare in the nine Kildare movies. But he will probably be best remembered for his work in the 1930’s anti-war Oscar winning film, All Quiet on the Western Front as the disillusioned German solider. Later when he declared himself a WWII conscientious objector, he was shunned by the studios and movie audiences, only to revive his career when he eventually volunteered as a medic and chaplain’s aide (earning three battle stars)
Everyone’s favorite nanny, Mr. French, from Family Affair is buried here. Granted, his headstone reads Sebastian Cabot (1918 – 1977). He was also the voices of Bagheera from The Jungle Book, the narrator in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Sir Ector in The Sword in the Stone. He died of a stroke. (Large Urn Garden, near front of office, top row, nine from right)
Many people remember John Cassavetes (1929 – 1989) for his acting work in such films as Rosemary’s Baby and his Oscar nominated performance in The Dirty Dozen. But it is his work as a director, where he was most prolific. Films like Faces and Shadows from the early part of his directing career as well as Opening Night and A Woman Under the Influence are considered not only his best work, but important films of the American independent cinema. (Lot 308)
Editor's note: Some gravesite listings do not have location information due to unacertainable information. Go to the Find-A-Grave website for GPS coordinates, if so determined.