The Final Taxi took a wonderful trip to Ontario, California over the weekend to be at the Podcaster and New Media Expo. I met some new friends and fans of the Final Taxi blog and podcast. PME ended on Sunday so I talked my travel companion into about an hour drive into Los Angeles. She wanted to go to Hollywood and see the Walk of Fame and we both wanted to see Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and see the stars hand and footprints in the sidewalk.
I asked if we could make a detour. I want to go to a cemetery. Not just any cemetery but Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. It is the cemetery of the stars. It didn’t take to much pushing and she knew that it would mean a lot to the writer of a blog on recently dead celebrities.
We took I-10 to Wilshire Blvd. and went up two blocks to Glendon. After turning right and going about two blocks it dead ended and we thought we were lost but on going back we saw what looked like an alley between the overshadowing buildings. There was a small iron gate with the Pierce Brothers Memorial Park sign on it. Suddenly we were in a small park with beautiful trees and flowers. It was like finding a small oasis in the middle of the city.
Pierce Brothers is a small cemetery which is hidden between office buildings on one side, and housing on the other. It is rather small, about 2 acres in size, but don’t let that fool you. There are many plot, mausoleums, and memorial plaques inside that small area. Even as I write this blog I am still finding out about people who are buried there.
After we parked I got out of the car and took a look around before starting to find many of my favorite stars. I saw a member of the staff and started asking questions. First if I could talk to them for a podcast. The lady refused and said “We understand the curiosity of the public, but our families come first.” She said all she could do was tell me that the cemetery was 2 and a half acres and established in 1903. She continued “We don’t allow tour groups to come in, no guide yelling ‘so and so is buried here; so and so is buried there.’ We ask people to show respect.”
The gentleman with her told me that they were a family cemetery first and they just happened to have a few famous people here. That is all I could get out of them. Except when I asked who was visited here the most.
Both pointed me to a wall in the far corner of the yard.
There was a tomb with flower beside it and at it’s feet. Also people had put several coin around the marker as a kind of payment for what is actress has meant to them.
This was the grave of Marilyn Monroe.
I was surprised at first that she did not have her birth name of Norma Jeane Mortenson on the marker.
Marilyn Monroe was a Golden Globe award winning American actress, model and sex symbol. She was known for her comedic skills and screen presence and became one of the most popular movie stars of the 1950s and early 1960s. At the later stages of her career, she worked towards serious roles with a measure of success. One of my favorite films with her is “Some Like It Hot.”
“Some Like It Hot” tells the story of two struggling musicians, Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon), who are on the run from a Chicago gang after witnessing the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre of 1929. They decide to leave town, but the only out-of-town job they can find is in an all-girl band. The two disguise themselves as women and call themselves Josephine and Geraldine They both fall for “Sugar Kane” Kowalczyk (Marylyn Monroe), the band’s sexy Polish-American vocalist and ukulele player, and fight for her affection while maintaining their disguises.
As I walked through this graveyard of legends, I came upon one of the other actors in the movie, Jack Lemmon.
I have always been a big Jack Lemmon fan. I think the third time I ever went to a movie theater and my sister, Deb, took me to see a double feature of “Barefoot In The Park,” and “The Odd Couple.” They brought them back to the movies since both were TV shows at the time and it was good publicity for both film and TV.
Jack Lemmon played Felix opposite Matthew Matthau as Oscar in “The Odd Couple.”
Lemmon played in some great films, including The Apartment, Days of Wine and Roses, Irma La Douce, The Great Race, The Odd Couple, The Out-of-Towners, The China Syndrome, Under The YumYum Tree, and Mass Appeal to name a few.
What was really funny to me is in typical Jack Lemmon wit, his gravestone simply reads ‘Jack Lemmon — in’. After Matthau’s death in 2000, Lemmon appeared with friends and relatives of the actor on a Larry King Live show in tribute. A year later, many of the same people appeared on the show again to pay tribute to Lemmon.
Speaking of Mr. Matthau, his grave is right down from Lemmon’s.
The two starred together not only in The Odd Couple but in The Fortune Cookie, The Front Page, and Buddy Buddy. Additionally, both had small parts in Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, JFK. In 1993, the duo teamed up again to star in Grumpy Old Men. The film was a surprise hit, earning the two actors a new generation of young fans. During the rest of the decade, they would go on to star together in Out to Sea, Grumpier Old Men and the widely-panned The Odd Couple II.
I would put Walter Matthau in my top favorite actors of all time. Even the badly made movies were good because Matthau was in it.
In 1955 he made his motion picture debut as a whip-wielding bad guy in The Kentuckian opposite Burt Lancaster ( who so happens to be buried in a grave opposite from him.) Some of my favorite Matthau movies The Sunshine Boys, House Calls, Little Miss Marker, Hopscotch, I Ought to Be in Pictures, The Couch Trip, Dennis the Menace, I.Q., Kotch ,and Pete N Tille. There was a great on screen spark between Glenda Jackson and Matthau in Hopscotch and House Calls. Netflix them is you have missed them. One role of Matthau’s that should not be forgotten is in 1976’s The Bad News Bears where he played the coach Morris Buttermaker. The role spun into two sequels and TV show and a re-make.
As I go back to the movie Some Like It Hot, the director and writer of that movie was Billy Wilder. Wilder was a journalist, screenwriter, film director, and producer whose career spanned more than 50 years and 60 films. He is regarded as one of the most brilliant and versatile filmmakers of Hollywood’s golden age. It is fitting that he is buried in a grave between Lemmon and Matthau. His grave says ” I’m A Writer, But Then Nobody’s Perfect.”
Next to Wilder is someone from the history of television, Carroll O’Connor, most famous for his portrayal of the character Archie Bunker in the television sitcoms All in the Family (1971-1979) and Archie Bunker’s Place (1979-1983). Archie was a reactionary, bigoted, blue-collar worker and family man. All in the Family got many of its laughs by playing on Archie’s bigotry, although the dynamic tension between Archie and his left-wing son-in-law, Michael “Meathead” Stivic (Rob Reiner), provided an ongoing political and social sounding board for a variety of topics.
O’Connor later starred in the television series In the Heat of the Night as Police Chief Bill Gillespie from 1988 to 1994.
Another TV star I stumbled upon was Eva Gabor the Hungarian-born American actress, best known for the long running TV show Green Acres. In it she portrayed Lisa Douglas, the New York wife of Oliver Wendell Douglas played by Eddie Albert who left New York City to live on a farm. Eva did several films but was most notable in voice-over work for Disney movies, providing the European-accented voices of Duchess in The Aristocats, Miss Bianca in The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under, and the Queen of Time in the Sanrio film, Nutcracker Fantasy.
Not far from Eva is her co-star of Green Arces Eddie Albert. Albert was nominated for Oscars in 1954 for his performance in Roman Holiday and in 1973 for The Heartbreak Kid. In an acting career that spanned nearly seven decades, two of his better known television roles were Oliver Wendell Douglas on the popular 1960s sitcom, Green Acres, and Frank MacBride on the popular 1970s crime drama, Switch. He also had a recurring role as Carlton Travis on Falcon Crest, opposite Jane Wyman. He had worked with her before in1938, when he made his feature film debut in the Hollywood version of Brother Rat with Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman. He played the role of cadet “Bing” Edwards. One of the first movies I saw him in was 1974’s The Longest Yard with Burt Reynolds. (That was a popular movie here in the South during the days of Alabama’s Paul ‘Bear” Bryant.) In Oklahoma! (1955), he played a womanizing peddler, and in Who’s Got the Action? (1962), he portrayed a lawyer helping his partner (Dean Martin) cope with a gambling addiction.
Speaking of Dean Martin, he is here too. Martin was an Italian American singer, film actor, and comedian. He was one of the most famous music artists in the 1950s and 1960s. His hit singles included the songs “Memories Are Made Of This”, “That’s Amore”, “Everybody Loves Somebody”, “Mambo Italiano”, “Sway”, “Volare” and “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”. But many of us remember him as part of the Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin Comedy duo. They started in radio but were in several films together. Martin was acclaimed for his solo performance as Dude in Rio Bravo (1959), directed by Howard Hawks and also starring John Wayne and singer Ricky Nelson. He teamed up again with Wayne in The Sons of Katie Elder (1965). Martin played a nightmare variation of his own smoothly womanizing persona as Vegas singer “Dino” in Billy Wilder’s adult comedy Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) with Kim Novak, and he was never above poking sly fun at his image in films such as the Matt Helm spy spoofs of the 1960s. Those are a hoot if you have never seen them and want a good comedy making fun of James Bond – type spies. I remember Dean Martin’s TV show. My mother never wanted to watch them because of the scantly clad women and Martin always drinking.
Martin joined Frank Sinatra, along with friends Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and Sammy Davis, Jr. to form the legendary Rat Pack.
I have not even begun to touch on other celebrities in Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. More pictures and stories in my next blog… Stay tuned