On this my last blog on the Final Taxi’s visit to Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angles I want to start with one of the reasons I went to that cemetery. One of my favorite child actresses is there. She didn’t have many roles but everyone knows who she is. Her famous catch phase is “They’re he-eere!” and is said in front of a TV set at the start of the movie Poltergeist. Her name was Heather O’Rourke and she died just as she turned 12.
Heather was discovered at the age of five by Steven Spielberg while having lunch at the MGM Studios Commissary with her mother. Spielberg, who was preparing to film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, was also looking for a child to play the role of Carol-Anne Freeling in his upcoming production of Poltergeist and when he approached Heather inquiring if she had any acting experience, she advised him that she was not allowed to talk to strangers. Despite her initial shyness, an interview soon followed and she was cast in the part.
Poltergeist was released in June 1982, and Heather’s line, “They’re he-eere!” entered American pop culture. Her success in Poltergeist immediately led to television work, and in 1982–83 she was a regular on the sitcom Happy Days, playing the daughter of Fonzie’s girlfriend. She played that role for 12 episodes. In between Heather’s numerous television appearances including a recurring role on Webster and Still the Beaver, Poltergeist II was filmed and released in 1986 and once again, she delivered another pop culture phrase, “They’re ba-aaack!”. It was shortly before pre-production of “Poltergeist III” in 1987 that she began to show the first signs of the illnesses that would contribute to her untimely death at age 12 less than a year later.
She died Feb. 1st, 1988, after had developed an intestinal obstruction that had eventually caused part of her small intestine to burst. What shocks me the most is that she would be 32 this year if she was still alive. This life was cut short way too early.
In the movie Poltergeist, Carol-Anne had an older sister Dana. The character would not be in any of the sequels mainly because the actress who played her was murdered just after the release of the film. Dominique Dunne played that role perfectly. Dunne is the sister of actor and director Griffin Dunne. Dunne’s first role was in the 1979 made for TV movie “Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker”. She was also in episodes of 80’s TV shows such as Family, Hart to Hart and Fame. After three years, she finally received her big break with a starring role in the Steven Spielberg produced, Tobe Hooper directed movie Poltergeist. After Poltergeist she appeared in the final season premiere of “CHiPs” and the 1982 TV movie The Shadow Riders with Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott. In the Fall of 1981, after completing work in Poltergeist, Dunne met and later moved in with chef John Thomas Sweeney after a heated argument after a breakup Sweeney strangled Dunne in the driveway of her home after she refused to reconcile with him. She died at the age of 22 and her body is very close to her on screen sister from Poltergeist.
Also almost two crypts down from Heather O’Rourke is famous writer Truman Capote. Capaote was an American writer whose stories, novels, plays, and non-fiction are recognized literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) and In Cold Blood (1965), which he labeled a “non-fiction novel.” At least 20 films and TV dramas have been produced from Capote novels, stories and screenplays. The recent 2005 film Capote received five Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance earned him many awards, including a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award, an Independent Spirit Award and the 2006 Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Immediately in front of Capote and O’Rourke is famous singer Melvin Tormé. Nicknamed The Velvet Fog he is best known as one of the great male jazz singers. He was also a jazz composer and arranger, a drummer, an actor in radio, film, and television, and the author of five books. He composed the music for the classic holiday song “The Christmas Song”. In 1943, Tormé made his movie debut in Frank Sinatra’s first film, the musical Higher and Higher. He went on to sing and act in a number of films and television episodes throughout his career, even hosting his own television show in 1951–52. His appearance in the 1947 film musical Good News made him a teen idol for a few years. He made regular appearances on the1980s TV comedy Night Court. In February 1999, Tormé was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
One grave not to be missed is that of TV and movie legend, Don Knotts. Knotts is best known for his portrayal of Barney Fife on the 1960s television sitcom The Andy Griffith Show, and as landlord Ralph Furley on the television sitcom Three’s Company in the 1980s. As a kid I remember him in a lot of movies where he and Tim Conway teamed up. What a great pair!
In 1958, Knotts appeared in the movie No Time for Sergeants alongside Andy Griffith. The movie began a professional and personal relationship between Knotts and Griffith that would last for decades. In 1960, when Griffith was offered the opportunity to headline in his own television sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968), Knotts took the role of Barney Fife, the deputy and cousin of Sheriff Andy Taylor. Knotts’ five seasons portraying the deputy on the popular show would earn him five Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Drama, even considering it was a comedy. Knotts also made several films including The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964), The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), The Reluctant Astronaut (1967), The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968), The Love God? (1969) and How to Frame a Figg (1971). In 1998, Knotts had a small but pivotal role as the mysterious TV repairman in Pleasantville. Also in 1998 his home town of Morgantown, West Virginia, changed the name of the street (US 119, US 73) to “Don Knotts Boulevard” on “Don Knotts Day.” I am surprised that he is here and not buried in his hometown, but he will always be loved and remembered.
There are so many famous stars buried here I can not name them all in this column. There are sites that have lists and even some of those are not complete for many of the graves are not marked and you will look right over places where George C. Scott, Roy Orbison or Frank Zappa are buried. We will not even talk about those who have been cremated here including Bewitched’s Elizabeth Montgomery, Singer Janice Joplin, My Favorite Martian‘s Ray Walston and one of my favorite bizarre actress Edith Massey. (Massey was in several early John Water’s films.)
Looking back I am still contacting actors together in movies they have played in together. Many of them played in TV or movie roles with the other actors that are buried here. It makes me go back to my “It’s A Wonderful Life” philosophy – One live does have an affect on others. Look around you. You never know if the person down the road is someone who is connected to you in some way that you do not know about. Treat each other kindly.
Lastly I did get to go to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and see the site where one of my favorite comedic actors placed his hands in the sidewalk- Peter Sellers. Hmmm — If I ever get to London I must visit Golders Green where his ashes are.