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This story first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
If you’re going to spend eternity underground, you might as well find a cemetery that suits your post-mortem lifestyle. In Los Angeles, where choices abound, cemeteries aren’t necessarily the grave affairs they are elsewhere.
Here, they host everything from the parade of American history (at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills) to hip Cinespia movie screenings (at Hollywood Forever). Still, price, as with any L.A. real estate, is a factor. Although a basic plot at the 300-acre Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills goes for $2,820, a gated family “estate” at the 2½-acre Westwood Village Memorial Park can go for $2 million.
A cemetery rep says some people reserve plots in their 40s. “There are real estate agents at every cemetery happy to take shoppers around,” says Scott Michaels of Dearly Departed Tours, which surveys L.A. sites where the famous have died.
Just as with houses, some shoppers go in for a view. Bette Davis purchased her grave at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills — with Warner Bros. in the distance — years before she died in 1989. Who resides in the neighborhood matters, too. In 1992, Hugh Hefner purchased the crypt next to Marilyn Monroe for $75,000 at Westwood. Dean Martin also is there, as are Peggy Lee and Jack Lemmon.
“I mean, really, it’s all the fun people. You know, everyone you haven’t seen for a while, that’s where they are,” jokes philanthropist Barbara Davis, who has a plot there reserved next to her late husband, former 20th Century Fox owner Marvin Davis. “I don’t especially like cemeteries,” she adds, “and the only person I would go for is Marvin.”
HOLLYWOOD FOREVER (6000 Santa Monica Blvd.)
Known today as the stage for jammed movie nights (and where Breaking Bad held a series-finale screening that raised $1.8 million for charity), this power cemetery is the final resting place for more stars than any other graveyard. It also is one of the few that offers tours ($15, cemeterytour.com), which are led by Karie Bible, who has given ones to January Jones and Andrew Garfield. Celebrity psychic Thomas John senses a lot of paranormal activity: “I think it’s because this place has lots of events, so the spirits are less at peace and want to participate.” Around Halloween, the most popular grave to visit is Maila Nurmi‘s, aka ’50s star Vampira; the most visited is Valentino‘s resting place. A crypt in a mausoleum starts at $6,300.
RESIDENTS: Cecil B. DeMille, Johnny Ramone, Jayne Mansfield
BEST EPITAPH: “That’s all folks” — Mel Blanc
FOREST LAWN GLENDALE (1712 S. Glendale Ave.)
“Without a doubt, forest Lawn will be my final resting spot,” says actress Ginifer King, star of the Nickelodeon series Haunted Hathaways. “The romanticism, the architecture and art collection. … I’m in.” Inside the park is an art museum (which includes a respected stained glass collection), replicas of Michelangelo‘s statues and a swan-filled lake. It also has been the site of celebrity weddings, including that of Ronald Reagan to Jane Wyman in 1940 in an on-site chapel. The Great Mausoleum includes a publicly accessible Court of Honor that recognizes some of the famous buried there.
RESIDENTS: Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Walt Disney
BEST EPITAPH: “Together Again” — George Burns with wife Gracie Allena
FOREST LAWN HOLLYWOOD HILLS (6300 Forest Lawn Drive)
Hubert Eaton, creator of both Forest Lawns, envisioned resting places that were far from bleak. “Cemeteries of today are wrong because they depict an end, not a beginning,” he wrote in 1917. To liven things up, the park has several attractions, including statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and The Birth of Liberty, a mosaic of 10 million Venetian glass pieces depicting early American scenes. While Michael Jackson‘s funeral took place there, he was laid to rest at Forest Lawn Glendale. Its top-of-the-line bronze Promethean casket ($25,000) features a velvet interior and 14-karat gold-plated hardware.
RESIDENTS: Liberace, Brittany Murphy, John Ritter
BEST EPITAPH: “If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I’ll never speak to them again.” — Stan Laurel
MOUNT SINAI MEMORIAL PARK (5950 Forest Lawn Drive)
Established in 1953, Mount Sinai Memorial Park became a cemetery exclusively for the Jewish community in 1959 (it does bury non-Jewish relatives of Jewish people so as to not split up families). The cemetery includes a “Memorial to the Six Million,” remembering the victims of the Holocaust, and a 150-foot-long mosaic depicting the history of Jews in America. GM Leonard Lawrence says Mount Sinai does not like to publicize who’s buried there. “If the family or studio wants to do this, they can, but we don’t. We honor the privacy for these people who never had privacy in their life because of stardom.”
RESIDENTS: Lionsgate exec Steven Rothenberg, publicist Eddie Michaels, “Mama” Cass Elliott, Totie Fields
BEST EPITAPH: “The last great ride” — Brandon Tartikoffa
WESTWOOD MEMORIAL PARK (1218 Glendon Ave.)
westwood memorial is a quiet residence for the dead tucked between Westwood high-rises. The park is a who’s who of Hollywood. “It’s the most elite of all of them,” says psychic John. “Many of the celebrities buried here channeled to me they love how inaccessible it is. There’s only one very hard-to-find entrance.” The cemetery’s claim to fame is Marilyn Monroe. She didn’t have a say in location; second husband Joe DiMaggio chose the cemetery because it was the resting place of a friend of Monroe’s mother who had cared for her as a child. The crypt above the actress was auctioned on eBay in 2009 for $4.6 million. A basic plot goes for $91,000.
RESIDENTS: Frank Zappa, Farrah Fawcett, Natalie Wood
BEST EPITAPH: “I will not be right back after this message” — Merv Griffin
HILLSIDE MEMORIAL PARK (6001 W. Centinela Ave.)
As commuters drive north on the 405 through Culver City, a towering stone monument on a green hillside comes into view. It’s perhaps the most spectacular tomb in all of Hollywood, and it belongs to The Jazz Singer‘s Al Jolson. Designed by famed L.A. architect Paul Williams, it features cascading water steps, a statue of Jolson on one knee and a two-story mausoleum. In 2011, Hillside published a 120-page guide, Distinguished Residents, profiling the who’s who of its necropolis, and this year introduced the first green burial site in L.A., Gan Eden.
RESIDENTS: Lew Wasserman, Julia Phillips, manager Bernie Brillstein, Shelley Winters, slain publicist Ronni Chasen, agent Phil Gersh
BEST EPITAPH: “Loved by all who knew her and millions who never did.” — Dinah Shore
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