Rants & Graves: An Illustrated Trip to Hollywood Forever & Westwood to See Marilyn, Judy & More

May 23, 2024

On a recent trip to L.A., a friend spontaneously took me to check out Hollywood Forever, one of the most famous cemeteries in the world.

His 'n' hearse (All images by Matthew Rettenmund)

Hollywood Forever is a vast, beautifully manicured space with swan-filled mini lakes. It is also known for its fun movie screenings.

This cemetery, however, is famous mostly because so many of its dead are famous.

A star is interned

Upon arriving, we immediately sought out Judy Garland (1922-1969), rushing to be sure we arrived before the mausoleum in which she is housed closed for the day.

Garland's remains were moved in 2017, nearly 50 years after her death, at the request of daughter Liza Minnelli (b. 1946). Judy's pavilion looks as new as it is, and had a fresh ruby slipper in front of it, as well as flowers and a photo.

Speaking of photos, I was surprised to see how many graves (mostly those of the nonfamous) have IMO tacky, etched portraits of the deceased.

Somewhat more endearing were the numerous glass receptacles that held cremains, often surrounded by photographs and personal effects.

Judy Garland

Back to Judy, hers is a suitably spectacular final resting place for one of the greatest performers of the 20th century, and she is in good company.

Not far from Judy is another 20th-century icon whose name has endured — Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926). Valentino's was one of the first celebrity deaths to spur mass hysteria — and mass-media hysteria — and his final resting place is said to be covered with lipstick kisses all the time.

What a hilarious way to steal focus from Valentino!

In fact, a nonfamous epitaph nearby announced:


when I bought my niche

at Hollywood Forever

I was told

they regularly remove

lipstick from Valentino's crypt

most men don't wear lipstick

so the glass on my niche

will be easier to maintain

I was fairly shocked later to realize this was written by my Facebook friend Alex Gildzen (b. 1943), a poet who is very much alive! He has purchased this space for a future inevitability.

Jean Veloz

Very near to Judy is the amazing Jean Veloz (1924-2023), an incredible dancer who died last year at 98.

Peter Finch

I didn't attack Hollywood Forever with a map, so missed a great deal of the biggest stars, including Jayne Mansfield (1933-1967). However, near Valentino was another surprise death: Peter Finch (1916-1977), who died at 60 just before winning an Oscar for Network (1976).

Perry Lopez

Right around the corner was James Dean (1931-1955) pal Perry Lopez (1929-2008). A photo of Lopez with Dean and Natalie Wood (1938-1981) was in his glass casae, along with his cremains.

Peter Lorre
Edmund Gwenn

Also inside was Peter Lorre (1904-1964) down the hall, and a sweet display for Santa Claus himself from Miracle on 34th Street (1947)— Oscar winner Edmund Gwenn (1877-1959) — was nearby.

Anne Heche

There are also plaques on the outside of the crypts, and many, empty spaces. The most recent death that caught my eye was that of Anne Heche (1969-2022). "MOTHER * ACTRESS * WRITER * DIRECTOR * CREATOR * BELIEVER," it read, "LIVE IN LOVE." A glamour portrait accompanies the legend, as does an etched butterfly.

Christopher Jones
Dirk Shafer
Mickey Rooney

Also on the outsides of the walls are gorgeous Wild in the Streets (1968) star Christopher Jones (1941-2014), Playgirl model and director Dirk Shafer (1962-2015) and one of Hollywood's biggest legends, Mickey Rooney (1920-2014). The latter's epitaph is: "HOLLYWOOD WILL ALWAYS BE HIS HOME."


Outside is a lovely statue in tribute to Toto (1933-1945), Garland's The Wizard of Oz (1939) co-star, though the dog's remains are not on site.

Douglas Fairbanks Sr.
Cecil B. DeMille

The largest outdoor crypt is a spectacular structure in honor of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. (1883-1939), and trailblazing director Cecil B. DeMille (1881-1959) — who died less than 10 years after his astonishing cameo in Sunset Boulevard (1950) — has a stolid tombstone befitting his stature.

Anton Yelchin
Hattie McDaniel

Two names separated by so much time and by the content of their films lie in rest quite close to each other outside: Anton Yelcher (1989-2016), who was tragically crushed to death by his car, can't be missed, thanks to a larger-than-life statue. Meanwhile, Gone with the Wind (1939) Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel (1893-1952) has, in my opinion, one of the nicest monuments, which states: "AUNT HATTIE, YOU ARE A CREDIT TO YOUR CRAFT, YOUR RACE, AND TO YOUR FAMILY."

Halyna Hutchins

One recent burial that shocked me and seemed ... out of place? ... in such a starry cemetery is the final resting place of Halyna Hutchins (1979-2021), the ill-fated cinematographer who died during the filming of the as-yet-unreleased Rust. One person has been convicted in her death, and actor-producer Alec Baldwin (b. 1958) is still on the hook.

Her grave marker bore flowers, photos and a Ukrainian flag.

Johnny Ramone

Not to be outdone by Yelchin was Johnny Ramone (1948-2004), whose statue of himself playing the guitar could be seen from space.

Burt Reynolds

Burt Reynolds (1936-2018) fairly leapt out at us, thanks to the bust of the actor in a 10-gallon cowboy hat. It was impossible not to contemplate his 1978 hit The End.

Holly Woodlawn

Holly Woodlawn (1946-2015), the trans Warhol superstar, was another witty resident, considering her last name. Valentino who?! Holly was the one with lipstick kisses on her stone.

Darren McGavin

I ran into A Christmas Story (1983) dad Darren McGavin (1922-2006) by accident. He had numerous tributes left on his stone. Oddly, he is not buried in Forest Lawn, where his wife Kathie Browne (1929-2003) had gone.

Fay Wray
Tyrone Power

Two of the most Old Hollywood figures I saw — Fay Wray (1907-2004) and (1914-1958) — had similarly old-school markers, nothing too ostentatious. In fact, Fay's was a simple marker in the ground, with a lovely marble bench.

Maila Nurmi aka Vampira

Finally — at least for Hollywood Forever — the most interesting grave marker I found was that of Maila Nurmi (1922-2008), chiefly because she wasn't a ghoul, she merely played one on TV. The famous Vampira's stone has a terrific etched image of her character and, by way of explanation, simply: "Hollywood Legend."

The following day, I attacked Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Cemetery far more methodically, using an online resource to spot any graves I missed on my own. Because of that, I think I saw every famous gravesite there, plus a few that were not on the list.

Westwood is shockingly small, and is squished between a lot of large buildings — you would not know it's there unless you were looking. I assume many are looking since its most famous resident is Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962), and yet when I went on a weekday, there were maybe five or six others there at the same time as me.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn's body is in crypt 24, her unassuming plaque easily visible within any average-sized person's eyeline. It's quite something to see it in person after having read so many books about her and seen so many of her films. It's a reminder of where we are all going, glam or not, accomplished or not.

Forever beautiful

There were fresh bouquets in Marilyn's honor (as well as a permanent marble seat donated by fans).

Ross Hunter

On the positive side, producer Ross Hunter (1920-1996) is very close to Marilyn. He deserves it.

Hugh Hefner & Marilyn Monroe

Disturbingly, Hugh Hefner (1926-2017) is interred right beside her. Sure, he had the money to do it, but ... should he have? It feels like postmortem stalking.

Westwood has a number of surprising pairings.

Peter Bogdanovich
Dorothy Stratten

For example, Playboy model and actress Dorothy Stratten (1960-1980 — check out that inscription!), the Marilyn-esque muse of filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich (1939-2022), is in the same cemetery as Marilyn — and is buried alongside Bogdanovich. This took a lot of planning, as she was murdered 42 years before he died.

Walter & Carol Matthau
Jack Lemmon
Billy WIlder

Screen duo Walter Matthau (1920-2000) — with colorful wife Carol Matthau (1924-2003) and Jack Lemmon (1925-2001 — his epitaph: "JACK LEMMON IN" ... above his plot) — are both in Westwood, albeit not side by side, as is Jack's — and Marilyn's — Some Like It Hot (1959) director, Billy Wilder (1906-2002). Wilder's epitaph is: "I'M A WRITER BUT THEN NOBODY'S PERFECT," a Some Like It Hot homage.

Brian & Daisy Keith

Daisy Keith (1969-1997) and her famous dad Brian Keith (1921-1997), who starred on Family Affair (1966-1971) are interred together. She took her own life for reasons unknown during her dad's cancer battle, and Keith took his life six weeks later.

Carroll, Nancy & Hugh O'Connor

Carroll O'Connor (1924-2001) and his wife Nancy (1929-2014) are touchingly interred with their beloved son Hugh (1962-1995), whose suicide after a long drug addiction led to O'Connor campaigning against drug use.

Sebastian Cabot
The field of plaques in which Mr. Cabot resides

Also in Westwood are the cremains of Family Affair's butler, Sebastian Cabot (1918-1977).

Truman Capote & Joanne Carson

The most striking pairing is that of Truman Capote (1924-1984) and his longtime best friend Joanne Carson (1931-2015). He died while at her home, and more than 40 years later, when she died, she made they were interred together.

Dominique Dunne
Heather O'Rourke

A tragic pair in Westwood — but not buried side by side — are the stars of Poltergeist (1982), Dominique Dunne (1959-1982), who was murdered by her boyfriend, and Heather O'Rourke (1975-1988), who appeared in three Poltergeist movies before dying of congenital stenosis and septic shock.

Bob Crain & Sigrid Valdis

Married Hogan's Heroes (1965-1971) actors Bob Crane (1928-1978) and Sigrid Valdis (1935-2007) are together forever, in spite of all the scandals Sigrid no doubt grew tired of hearing about during the 29 years she survived after him.

Eve Arden West & Brooks West

So, too, are married actors Eve Arden (1908-1990) and Brooks West (1916-1984). Her epitaph: "THE WORLD WILL REMEMBER."

Karl & Mona Malden

Karl Malden (1912-2009), one of the most prolific Old Hollywood actors, is in Westwood alongside his incredibly long-lived wife, Mona (1917-2019), who lived to be 102.

Donna Reed

And yet Donna Reed (1921-1986), who was married when she died of cancer, is at rest alone — her husband, Grover Asmus (1926-2003), when he died long after her, had opted for burial elsewhere.

Kirk, Anne & Eric Douglas

Kirk (1916-2020) and Anne (1919-2021) are together — with son Eric Douglas (1958-2004) — which was no surprise to me. More surprising was realizing that Natalie Wood (1938-1981), whom Kirk allegedly violently raped, is in the same cemetery.

I wonder if Robert Wagner (b. 1930) will wind up with Natalie, considering his long marriage to Jill St. John (b. 1940)?

Natalie Wood
Farrah Fawcett & Ryan O'Neal

I was surprised by the fact that Farrah Fawcett (1947-2009) is buried with the recently deceased Ryan O'Neal (1941-2023). They weren't married, but I suppose in spite of a tumultuous relationship were longtime life partners, so O'Neal was perhaps granted the legal right to make this call.

Bettie Page & Allan Melvin

They aren't a pair, and their positions side by side seems to be a pop cultural fluke, but both pinup queen Bettie Page (1923-2008) and character actor Allan Melvin (1923-2008) — Sam the Butcher on The Brady Bunch (1969-1974) are in Westwood. They share birth years, death years and space! (P.S. Allan's wife Amalia is here, too, and died in 2020 — at age 100!)

Don Knotts
Fanny Brice
Jonathan & Gertrude Harris
Tim Conway

Some of the big, big comic names in Westwood include Don Knotts (1924-2006), whose marker is etched with some of his indelible characters; Fanny Brice (1891-1951), whose final resting place was cordoned off and deemed private; Lost in Space (1965-1968) star Jonathan Harris (1914-2002) and his wife Gertrude (1913-2007); stand-up god Rodney Dangerfield (1921-2004) — "THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD"; and the great Tim Conway (1933-2019). I later that night saw Carol Burnett (b. 1933) onstage and when she mentioned him, it was such an odd feeling having just seen his grave.

Josef & Meri von Sternberg
John Jay Carsey
Sammy Cahn
Merv Griffin

Creatives in the cemetery include the incomparable director Josef von Sternberg (1894-1969) and his wife Meri von Sternberg (1920-2017) — good God, she was alive until quite recently!; John Jay Carsey (1921-2002), who wrote for The Tonight Show in the '60s and was Marcy Carsey's (b. 1944) hubby; songwriter Sammy Cahn (1913-1993); and one of the most successful producers of all time, Merv Griffin (1925-2007). His epitaph — "I WILL NOT BE RIGHT BACK AFTER THIS MESSAGE" — is one of the most famous of all time.

Eva Gabor

Cleverly, he is in the same cemetery as Eva Gabor (1919-1995), who often bearded for him. (Her grave had Mother's Day wishes, perhaps from one of her stepkids with her last husband, Frank Jameson.)

Burt Lancaster

Perhaps the most surprisingly incognito grave marker belongs to the legendary Burt Lancaster (1913-1994), whose tiny plaque was hard for me to find at all.

So many others:

Peggy Lee

Songbird Peggy Lee (1920-2002) has a gorgeous bench.

Minnie Ripperton

Maya Rudolph's (b. 1972) mom, Minnie Riperton (1947-1979) has the famous lines of her hit single on her tombstone.

Florence Henderson

Florence Henderson (1934-2016) is remembered as, "Beloved mother of four, cherished mom to millions, forever in the hearts of her family, friends, and fans."

Peter Falk

Peter Falk (1927-2011) refers to his (still living) wife Shera Danese (b. 1949) in his somewhat awkward epitaph. It's odd, too, because his daughter and his wife were embroiled in a lawsuit over his estate.

Christopher George

I have a soft spot for Playgirl veteran Christopher George (1931-1983), who died much too soon.

Richard Dawson

I adored Richard Dawson (1932-2012) for his Family Feud (1976-1985) and Match Game (1973-1978) charm/anti-charm, his youthful wit and his older-days over-it-ness.

Jackie Collins

Fabulous Jackie Collins (1937-2015) has a crypt with husband Oscar S. Lerman (1919-1992). Her epitaph: "SHE GAVE A GREAT DEAL OF PEOPLE A GREAT DEAL OF PLEASURE." Take that, Barbara!

Eddie Albert

It was nice to run into Eddie Albert (1906-2005). A solid liberal who lived forever and appeared on a show everyone loved — Green Acres (1965-1971).

Dean Martin

Dean Martin (1917-1995) has been dead nearly 30 years, yet someone had placed a fresh rose by his crypt.

Ray Bradbury

Writer Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) is IDed as "AUTHOR OF FAHRENHEIT 451," as if we could forget.

Robert Loggia

Robert Loggia (1930-2015), one of the only people in Westwood who I had met, was somewhat high up, but his final resting place stood out, looking shiny and new.

Cornel Wilde

Muscular Cornel Wilde (1912-1989) lies about his age on his tombstone, shaving off three years. He didn't look a day over dead.

John Cassavetes

Filmmaker John Cassavetes (1929-1989) had a classy, subtle stone, and someone had placed a single, devil-red rose on it.

Louis, Quique & Louis Jr. Jourdan

Handsome Louis Jourdan (1921-2015) is interred with his wife Quique (1921-2014) and their son Louis Jourdan Jr. (1951-1981).

Wayne Rogers

Wayne Rogers (1933-2015) of M*A*S*H (1972-1975) fame is in a crypt that declares "A LIFE WELL LIVED," in spite of a pretty disappointing paternity suit against him that alleged he ignored a child he had with actress Melinda Naud (b. 1955).

Lloyd & Ruth Bochner

I was pleased to see the final resting place of Lloyd Bochner (1924-2005) and his wife Ruth (1925-2017); I'm such a fan of his work, and of their son Hart Bochner (b. 1956).

Paul Gleason

Another character actor I adored who I was surprised to find was Paul Gleason (1939-2006), who I'd just rewatched in The Breakfast Club (1985). Man, he really died so young — of lung cancer contracted from asbestos working on building sites as a young man with his dad.

Jane Greer

Speaking of actors known for roles I'm obsessed with, I spotted Jane Greer (1924-2001), who was, of course, in the movie Out of the Past (1947) and who played a plastic surgery-deformed actress on an episode of Quincy, M.E. (1979) that scarred both her character and me for life. Her epitaph: "and then she came out of the sun." She's noted as Jane Greer Lasker, as she was wed to Edward Lasker (1912-1997).

Jerry Douglas

Soap star Jerry Douglas (1932-2021), who appeared on The Young and the Restless (1981-2016), was one of two actors with a variation on the epitaph "FOREVER YOUNG & RESTLESS."

Lew Ayres
Oscar Levant
Brenda Joyce
Rod McKuen

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) star Lew Ayres (1908-1996), pianist and host Oscar Levant (1906-1972), starlet Brenda Joyce (1917-2009) and poet Rod McKuen (1933-2015) — the only person I ever heard Jane Withers (1926-2021) disparage — all had extremely simple stones, but I found them all without using the map.

Mel Tormé
Ray Conniff

Singer Mel Tormé (1925-1999) and Ray Conniff (1916-2002) — along with his wife Vera (1944-2018) — had nice, old-fashioned stones. Mel's announces: "So many gifts / So lovingly shared."

Biff Elliot

Biff Elliot (1923-2012), an excellent Mike Hammer in I, the Jury (1953), has a stone with a Mickey Spillane (1918-2006) quote: "IT WAS EASY." How beautiful is that?

And finally, I wanted to point out that yes, I found George C. Scott (1927-1999), but it was hard ... look at it:

George C. Scott?!?

Thanks for taking a look, and see you in Hell!

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