Posted by Susan Doll on May 27, 2013
In Part 2 of my excursion into Hollywood Forever Cemetery in search of the myth and romanticism of Old Hollywood, I focus on the great stars whose final resting places are indicative of their larger-than-life status. If Old Hollywood is a combination of glamor, marvel, illusion, and a touch of scandal, then the stars did not disappoint me.
Established in 1899 as the Hollywood Memorial Park, the cemetery itself is a story of glamor and scandal. The glamor is obviously represented by the stars interred there; the scandal is in the form of a character named Jules Roth, a convicted felon who purchased the cemetery in 1939. Roth lived a life in luxury, while the cemetery fell into disrepair, because he was using the profits from Hollywood Memorial to support his lifestyle. By 1997, Roth was bankrupt, and the deteriorating cemetery was looking decrepit. The old con man died in 1998, and the following year, the cemetery was purchased by Tyler and Brent Cassity, whose Missouri-based family had been in the funerary business for 25 years. Tyler Cassity had a new vision for the cemetery, capitalizing on its history and glamor. The Cassitys renamed it Hollywood Forever and spent millions refurbishing it to its former glory—perhaps even surpassing it. While I was visiting the cemetery, I spoke with a Hollywood native and movie lover who visits regularly. He had nothing but praise for the new owner for bringing this landmark. . . well, back from the dead.
The first Hollywood stars were akin to American royalty. Long before television, tabloids, and the internet revealed every foible, flaw, and fault, and before audiences became so jaded that they wanted to know every foible, flaw, and fault, stars were considered idols of glamour and romance. The final resting places for some of the great silent stars recall their extraordinary lives for a variety of reasons.
The show-stopper has to be the dual gravesite of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Jr., which is a singular marble tomb surrounded by a columned enclosure in a sunken garden at the end of a long reflecting pool. There are no markers or gravestones in the vicinity to crowd the magnificent view—which can be contemplated from a small bridge or overlook.
Athletic and fearless, Douglas, Sr. played the dashing, larger-than-life hero on the big screen in such silent adventures as The Mark of Zorro, The Thief of Bagdad, and The Black Pirate, but his preternaturally handsome son was a hero in real life AND a movie star. During WWII, Fairbanks, Jr., who was part of a group known as the Beach Jumpers, became the first American officer to command a British fleet during an operation or raid. For his role in the amphibious assault on Southern France, Lt. Commander Fairbanks was given the U.S. Navy Legion of Merit, the Italian War Cross for Military Valor, the French Legion of Honor and Croix de Guerre with Palm, and the British Distinguished Service Cross. He also earned other medals before the war was over. After the war, he spent five years as chairman of CARE, sending food and aid to war-ravaged countries. For most of their lives, father and son had avoided each other. Fairbanks the Younger was a son from an earlier marriage that ended in a messy divorce, and he entered into the family business uninvited. Rumor has it that when young Douglas showed up in an early movie sporting a thin mustache like his father, the elder Fairbanks was irritated. Restless and easily bored, Douglas, Sr. relished the high life of a Hollywood movie star, partying in the close-knit Hollywood colony or traveling the world as American royalty. In contrast, Douglas, Jr. sought to accomplish things through his celebrity—performing onstage, writing plays, organizing charity work. However, as the health of Fairbanks the Elder rapidly deteriorated in the late 1930s, the two spent time together until Sr. died in 1939. Unlike his father, Fairbanks, Jr. lived a long, healthy life, dying at age 90 in 2000. Though they didn’t connect in life, father and son are joined for eternity in a setting that befits one of Hollywood’s royal families.
Valentino is not buried in a marble tomb on a large parcel of ground in a peaceful setting. He’s interred in a vault in the Cathedral Mausoleum, but the spectacle that has surrounded him in death has stolen the spotlight from Fairbanks. The epitome of the exotic masculine lover on the screen, Valentino never enjoyed a stable relationship with any woman. First wife Jean Acker reportedly told him that their marriage had been a tragic mistake on their wedding night; second wife Natasha Rambova (born Winifred Hudnut) tried to dominate his career by choosing his films for him. After his death in New York City from a ruptured appendix, Pola Negri tried to milk the situation by claiming she had been engaged to Valentino. She took to feinting in full view of the cameras during the public viewing of his body, which took place in New York. The body was shipped back to Los Angeles, where an elaborate funeral took place. An invitation-only service was held at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Los Angeles, but 7,000 fans showed up at Hollywood Memorial Park. Bushels of flowers were dropped from an airplane as his casket was carried to his crypt in the Cathedral Mausoleum. Plans were designed by architect Matlock Price for a large monument in Hollywood Memorial consisting of a a statue of Valentino as the Sheik set in a semi-circle of Roman columns. At the base of each column was to be relief carvings of the actor in his greatest roles: The Four Horsemen, The Sheik, Monsieur Beaucaire, Blood and Sand, The Eagle, and Son of Sheik.
However, aside from his brother, Valentino did not have a wife or close family to pay for a monument befitting his stardom. June Mathis, who had discovered Valentino and wrote the screenplays for his biggest films, allowed him to be placed in her family vault temporarily. However, no grand marble monument ever materialized, and he has remained in the Mathis vault. Valentino may have missed out on an elaborate monument, but his final resting place needs no statue to attract visitors. His “monument” is in the form of Hollywood folklore that continues to surround his legend and image. Generations of “Ladies in Black”—beautiful mystery women in long black veils—have made a show of solemnly leaving red roses at his vault, while ordinary fans and movie lovers leave trinkets and flowers. An entire display is on view in the Cathedral Mausoleum featuring photos and trinkets related to the spectacle that has surrounded him in death.
Movie mogul Harry Cohn, who ran Columbia Pictures with an iron fist, is buried in a large marble sarcophagus that is elevated on a stepped platform. The monument echoes his famous office, which was designed to impress upon visitors just how important Cohn was—or thought he was. Visitors sat in an outer waiting room for an appropriate amount of time before being shown into his secretary’s inner office. An electronic door separated Cohn’s inner sanctum from his secretary’s office, and the old mogul buzzed in visitors from a button on his desk. Once inside, visitors walked the considerable distance to Cohn’s desk, which was elevated on a platform or base, so that he could look down on his guests. If you look at the photo at the top of this post, you will find me sitting on Cohn’s monument. He did not buzz me in.
Norma, Constance, and Natalie Talmadge are interred in crypts inside the mausoleum dubbed the Abbey of the Psalms in a small passageway on the right side of the Shrine of Eternal Love. They are in the second, third, and fourth crypts from the top and were placed in ascending order of age. During the silent era, the Talmadges epitomized the glamour and luxurious lifestyle of the Hollywood colony, so perhaps it is fitting that they are together for eternity. Yet, I wondered, “Where are the husbands?” Looking closely, I found that Norma’s last husband, Carvel James, is laid to rest with her. The plaque on the front reads “James” at the top, then “Norma Talmadge” on the second row, and “Dr. Carvel M.” on the bottom. Norma, who was the first star to have her footprints placed in cement in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, alongside Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, was the biggest sensation of the three sisters. Her career was boosted by her marriage to powerful producer Joseph Schenck, who was later chairman of 20th Century Fox. But, by that time, Norma’s career was over, and the two had been separated for several years. When Schenck finally gave her a divorce in 1934, she promptly married the old man’s former poker buddy, George Jessel. That marriage lasted only five years; she wed James in 1946.
Natalie, whose acting career was relatively minor, was married to Buster Keaton for 11 turbulent and tumultuous years. She costarred opposite him in Our Hospitality, which was her last film and the pinnacle of her career. She was much better at spending Buster’s money and driving him further into drink. According to some sources, Natalie threw him out of the marriage bed after the birth of their second son. They divorced in 1932, and Natalie never remarried. Though she never became as big a star as Norma, young Constance enjoyed a substantial career during the 1910s and costarred in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance. She was married four times. Each of her first three marriages lasted about a year each. Like Norma, Constance did not survive into the sound era as an actress. She married Walter Michael Giblin, her fourth husband, in 1939, long after her career was over, and this marriage lasted until his death. Though her plaque reads “Constance Talmadge Giblin,” it is the name Talmadge that dominates the entire wing. I came to the conclusion that in death, as in life, the Talmadge Sisters together epitomized the glamour of Old Hollywood, which overshadowed their attempts at separate careers and personal lives.
To me, the most interesting burial situation was the tomb of Marion Davies. Because of my visit to her tomb, I inferred much about her and her relationship with William Randolph Hearst. If not for the conversation with the gentlemen mentioned above, who visits the cemetery regularly, my friend Maryann and I might not have found her tomb at all. He informed us that the name on the tomb is not Davies, but Douras, which was her family name. I couldn’t help but think that this had some deeper significance. The last act of any marriage is for the spouses to be buried next to each other, often with epitaphs on their gravestones attesting to mutual devotion. Hearst and Davies were together for thirty years, but they could never be buried side by side, because they could never wed. To be with Hearst, she not only gave up any youthful dreams of a big public wedding, but their relationship would never be validated by that final gesture of long-lasting couples. When Hearst was taken ill in 1951, which proved fatal, his lawyers supposedly gave a hysterical Davies a sedative so powerful that she slept through his passing, the removal of his body, and the removal of his personal belongings from their Beverly Hills mansion. Davies was not allowed to attend the funeral by the Hearst family and associates; also, legal maneuverings by Hearst’s sons squeezed her into relinquishing her hold on the business. At the end of 32 years as Hearst’s mistress, she was left with their Beverly Hills mansion in a codicil to his will but little else. That she was aware of the lack of social and legal position for her role as his mistress is evident by the fact that she married Horace Brown ten weeks after W.R. died. They remained married until her death in 1961, but it is not the name “Brown” that is etched on the tomb, even though Horace was placed there when he died in 1990.
According to the horrible excuse for a map that I bought from the gift shop at the cemetery, the grave of Arthur Lake, who played Dagwood Bumstead in the old Blondie series, was behind the Davies tomb. At least it looked that way. However, after several minutes of intense searching by both of us, Maryann looked up Lake on the Internet via her phone to discover that he was actually interred INSIDE the tomb of Marion Davies. What did Dagwood Bumstead have to do with William Randolph Hearst’s mistress? Well, not surprisingly, it’s a tangled story tainted by scandal.
For years, Marion’s “niece” and personal assistant, Patricia Van Cleve, lived at San Simeon. Hearst circulated the story that Van Cleve was the daughter of Marion’s sister Rose Douras Van Cleve. When Patricia was 17, she embarked on a torrid affair with Errol Flynn. W.R. put his foot down and hand-picked handsome newcomer Arthur Lake to court the wayward girl. Patricia married the young man with the nice disposition at San Simeon. When Patricia Van Cleve Lake lay ill on her death bed in 1993, she broke it to her family that she was really the illegitimate daughter of William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies. Hence, Patricia Van Cleve and Arthur Lake are entombed with Marion Davies and Horace Brown in a structure with the name Douras on the outside.
Visiting Hollywood Forever Cemetery offers an impression of the stars that one doesn’t necessarily get from surfing the internet or reading in books. I highly recommend it.
*Special thanks to Maryann Dahlen for most of the photos in last week’s and this week’s post.
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