As I said in last weeks blog I took a trip to Ontario, California to the Podcaster and New Media Expo. We were able to go to Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery that Sunday.
As I drove into the small 2 acre park I was taken by it beauty. I parked the car and got out looking at the huge trees and adoring plants. As I looked down I noticed I was walking on someone grave. It was Rodney Dangerfield. I had a voice in my head proclaim “ ..HEY, even dead I still get no respect.” Dangerfield gravestone read ” There Goes The Neighborhood..”
Born Jacob Cohen, Dangerfield was an American comedian and actor, best known for the catchphrase “I don’t get no respect.” He started out as a regular on “The Dean Martin Show” ( someone I talked about in part one) and The Ed Sullivan Show. He also appeared on The Tonight Show 70 times.
As far as films are concerned, Dangerfield will most be known for his role in Caddyshack, a film that has become a cult classic. Caddyshack is on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 funniest American films. The film is also second on Bravo’s “100 Funniest Movies.” Because of Dangerfield’s performance it led to starring roles in the movies Easy Money and Back To School. He later had a hit music single called “Rappin’ Rodney.”
In 1994, Rodney Dangerfield won an American Comedy Award for lifetime creative achievement. He was also recognized by the Smithsonian Institution, which put one of his trademark white shirts and red ties on display.
One role I will remember him as is when he played Mr. Burn’s son on the cartoon TV show “The Simpsons.”
Another famous cartoon character’s voice is buried here. Jim Backus played the voice of Mr. Magoo, a wealthy, short-statured retiree who gets into a series of sticky situations as a result of his nearsightedness, compounded by his stubborn refusal to admit the problem. At least four Mr. Magoo cartoons were nominated for an Academy Award and a live action film starring Leslie Nelson was made. Backus will be know for many other roles including the rich Hubert Updike III of the Alan Young radio show, Joan Davis’ husband (a court judge) on TV’s I Married Joan, James Dean’s father in Rebel Without a Cause and the piolet who Mickey Rooney & Buddy Hackett hire and find out he likes to drink and fly in the film It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. But the one role everyone should remember him for is from the 1960s hit sitcom Gilligan’s Island. Jim Backus played the role of millionaire Thurston J. Howell III for 98 episodes and three movie sequels. Backus was already a well-known actor by the time he took the part. He reused some of the voice inflections and mannerisms of Mr. Magoo in the role. He was well known for his ad-libs on the set. In 1952 he had a brief scene in Don’t Bother To Knock with fellow graveyard mate Marilyn Monroe.
Another famous TV star down from Backus is that of Bob Crain who is known has TV’s Hogan of Hogan’s Heroes. In 1965, Crane was offered the starring role in a television comedy pilot about a German P.O.W. camp. Hogan’s Heroes became a hit and finished in the Top Ten in its first year on the air. Crain played Colonel Robert E. Hogan in the sitcom from 1965 to 1971. After Hogan, Crane continued to act, appearing in two Disney films and a number of TV shows, including Police Woman, Quincy, M.E., and The Love Boat. His death and murder is still one of the most bizarre stories in Hollywood and has ties to pornographic movies he was filming at the time.
Up a few graves from Crain is another murder actor. Dorothy Stratten found fame as the Playboy magazine’s Playmate of the Month for August 1979 and Playmate of the Year for 1980. Stratten afterwards began a modestly successful acting career. She starred in five movies including Skatetown, Autumn Born and two of my favorite films Americathon and Galaxina. Both of those are great comedies. Galaxina is a parody of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Alien and starred Stratten as a lifelike, voluptuous android named Galaxina who is assigned to oversee the operations of a deep-space freighter. While Americathon stars John Ritter, Fred Willard, Peter Riegert, Harvey Korman and Nancy Morgan, & George Carlin it includes a small role with Stratton as well as Elvis Costello, Jay Leno, Meat Loaf, Tommy Lasorda, and Chief Dan George. In the movie the USA has run out of oil, and many Americans are literally living in their (now stationary) cars and either jog or ride bicycles to travel. (Doesn’t sound to far from it now- huh?)
Stratton was murdered my her jealous, controlling and egotistical manager and husband. Both Jamie lee Curtis and Mariel Hemingway have played Stratton in movies of her life. Stratton was only 20 when she was murdered.
Another person with a short career and strange death was Eric Douglas. His grave is right next to Walter Matthau. Douglas was the youngest son of actor Kirk Douglas half-brother of Michael Douglas. He was in Tomboy, The Flamingo Kid but will be most known in the movie The Golden Child with Eddie Murphy. Douglas battled with drug and alcohol problems for years, and had numerous brushes with the law. He was 46 when was found dead in his New York apartment by a maid who had come in to clean.
Another person who is in Pierce Bros. and died of mysterious circumstances is Natalie Wood. Wood starred with fellow graveyard mate Jim Backus in Rebel Without a Cause as well as Splendor in the Grass and Love With the Proper Stranger. All three earned her a Oscar nomination. Another graveyard mate she starred with was Jack Lemmon in The Great Race. Wood started her career early as a child actor in both Miracle on 34th Street and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir in 1947. One of her most noted films is that of the musical West Side Story. Her last film was released after her death, 1983’s Brainstorm. It was while filming that movie with Christopher Walken that Wood and her husband, actor Robert Wagner took a yachting trip with Walken and sometime during the night Wood slipped, hit her head and fell off the boat and drown. There is controversy and speculation about what happen but we lost a great actress.
Someone else who starred with Natalie Wood in the movie Meteor is Brian Keith. Keith is in a beautiful side garden with running water over stones. It is very serene. Keith started out in Western movies but his big break came in 1966 when he landed the role of “Uncle Bill” Davis on the popular television situation comedy Family Affair, a role that earned him three Emmy nominations for Best Actor. Family Affair explored the trials of well-to-do civil engineer and bachelor Bill Davis (Keith), as he attempted to raise his brother’s 3 orphaned children in his luxury New York City apartment. He is helped by his stuffy English butler Mr. French (Sebastian Cabot who is also buried here and whose grave I missed photographing) Keith will also be known as a father in a popular 1961 Disney film, The Parent Trap, where Hayley Mills plays his twin daughters. Keith played American presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley in two film that were considered to be two of his best roles. In the 80’s he was in the TV show Hardcastle and McCormick and he even has his own self titled show “ The Brian Keith Show” in the 70’s. He suffered from emphysema and lung cancer after years of smoking. Keith was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1997, two months after his daughter Daisy had committed suicide.
There is a few more stars I would like to talk about and show you their graves, including one of my favorite child actress . More on her next blog