Friday, June 12, 2015

Waking the Dead: Hillside Memorial Park & Mortuary

Raise your hand if you knew that Nell Carter was Jewish.  It was a surprise to me too.  Honestly, if you had shared that choice little tidbit with me last week, I would've said, "Gimme a break!"  And yet, the fact remains that Carter's remains rest in one of Los Angeles' largest Jewish cemeteries.

"I'll see you at temple!"

Now, it's been a long running joke at awards shows that the majority population in the business of show (Nell Carter included) descends from God's chosen people; after visiting Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles, it became clear to this wacky tacky WASP that the joke is funny because it's true.  One trip around the verdant grounds of this beautifully-maintained cemetery yields a veritable constellation of classic-Hollywood's biggest stars (of David).

Hillside Memorial Park & Mortuary - Los Angeles, CA

The sole function of Hillside's largest monument appears merely to be a stunning architectural centerpiece in which six columns support an open rotunda from which spills forth a cascading waterfall.  This is more than just atmospheric grandeur guiding loved ones into the next life, however, this is all part of one man's grave.

Under a great stone canopy stands the marble
sarcophagus of filmdom's favorite Jazz Singer
Al Jolson
Are you my Mammy?
The shrine includes a life-size statue of the singer-
actor who famously ushered in the era of "talkies."

Directly behind Jolson's monument is the entrance to the mausoleum.  A reverential tone is set by the building's soaring panels of beautiful stained glass and its incredible light fixtures.

Cool, but none could outshine the star power of the famous residents.

The mausoleum

The godfather of television game shows 
(including my favorite, What's My Line?), 
sits just to the left of the main entrance.

Aaron Spelling
Isn't it some kind of sacrilege that his current
zip code is 90045 and not 90210?!?!!

Jeff Chandler
I would definitely consider converting if it meant
that I too got wavy, prematurely-gray hair.

Dinah Shore
Who needs to see the USA in a Chevrolet when you
can be the "someone" in the kitchen with Dinah?!!

The neighboring grave sites of the Bonanza cast broadened our understanding of the term "family plot."

Lorne Greene
This is the look that told Hoss he was in big trouble.

Michael Landon
Even with its infamous traffic, he found his
Highway to Heaven in Los Angeles!

Like some kind of heavenly roast, a host of comedy legends made Hillside their final stop before going up to that big Friar's Club in the sky.

Jack Benny
For one so famously thrifty, Benny sure went all out on
his final resting place.  I think it was for the love of Mary.

A funnyman, a singer, and the guy
responsible for "Makin' Whoopee."

Milton Berle
I was never a huge fan of "Uncle Milty" but his cameo
in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure always makes me laugh.

In which otherworldly realm do you think 
the Three Stooges are practicing their hijinks? 

It is mandatory for every American to know no more than 23 percent of 
the lyrics to Sherman's most famous song, "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah."
"Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" - Allan Sherman 
on the Perry Como Show

Dreaming of making my home a terrazzo-clad "sanctuary of kindness," makes me
want to take the easy way out and just take up residence at Hillside Memorial Park!

Cyd Charisse & Tony Martin
In some totally immature, passive-aggressive way, don't you hope that
their kids turned out ugly; it's not fair for two people to be so beautiful!!!
How badly did I want to "take one" from the crystal
bowl of disposable yarmulkes?  I did but I didn't...

Friz Freleng
The innovative animator gave us some of the most
memorable cartoon moments of the 20th Century!

Sheldon Leonard
A supporting player in It's A Wonderful Life and I Love Lucy,
Leonard was a successful producer of another wacky tacky 
television favorite, The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Eydie Gorme
It is customary at Jewish cemeteries to place small stones on the
graves of the departed.  Nobody said they couldn't be rhinestones!!!

Shelley Winters
It's always difficult for me to think of Ms. Winters as a sex pot;
my introductions to her body of work came via Roseanne and
Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?

I was a bit reticent to include the next resident, as he was a convicted criminal responsible for all kinds of abominable activities during his rise to the top of the Los Angeles crime syndicate.  But you can't spell infamy without fam(e), right?  And even bad guys need to be laid to rest.

Mickey Cohen
The boxer obviously took his fair share of punches.

Other big names found within the grounds of Hillside Memorial park include Hammerin' Hank Greenberg, Tom Poston, Suzanne Pleshette, David Janssen, George Jessel, and the Max Factors (Junior and Senior).  The most recent addition to the star roster is none other than Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy.

Leonard Nimoy
At the end of a footbridge near the edge of a glittering
pond, Nimoy's marker is so new that the permanent
plaque is not yet in place.

Sci-fi enthusiasts are another tribe to which I cannot count myself a member, but some icons of popular culture are so significant that they are able to transcend even my ignorance.  As I walked away from Nimoy's memorial towards the wacky wagon, I noticed a grave marker that featured a symbol that looked distinctly familiar.

I was quite touched when I learned that Nimoy incorporated a
sacred gesture from his faith into his Star Trek character.  It was a
surefire way to make sure that it would "live long and prosper."

Walking the grounds, contemplating death, and the meaning of celebrity, I heard a loud thud that broke the silent spell cast by a graveyard.  Looking around for the source of the noise, I saw a smudge on a large pane of glass that led into the mausoleum's foyer.  As if I needed another reminder of the fleeting nature of life, I looked down to see the lifeless body of a bird.
I guess if you gotta go, a cemetery is a most convenient place...

In the end, I suppose we're all here to learn something; I think it is just as Leonard Nimoy says in the song, "Nature Boy," written by Jewish mystic, Eden Ahbez.  "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."  Godspeed little bird!

"Nature Boy" - Leonard Nimoy

Hillside Memorial Park & Mortuary
6001 W Centinela Ave
Los Angeles, CA


Mr. Tiny


  1. Great post, Mr. Tiny. I would LOVE to visit this cemetery!

    1. Thanks, Peter! If you guys ever make it out this way, you know that you have tour guides that are always at the ready!

  2. Wonderful post! Cyd Charisse was one of my favorite dancers.

    1. Thank you! She is the most! The sequence from SINGIN' IN THE RAIN might seem cliché but it has always been a favorite...she is gorgeous!

  3. Thanks for this wonderful post, loved all the pictures and memories that popped up.

  4. what a beautiful place! and i love that leonard nimoy used that hand gesture for Mr. Spock. He was an amazing guy. And i love listening to Nimoy records.

    1. Isn't that cool?! Even though I am not a "trekkie," I have a lot of respect for him and his faith. I thought of you guys as soon as I found his grave!

  5. How boring and awful would things be without Jews? There would be no corned beef sandwich delis, no Broadway, no Hollywood, no Joan Rivers, no Barbara Streisand, no Jerry Seinfeld, no David Letterman, (he hides it) no Jack Black, no Ralph Lauren fashion, no TV-think Brady Bunch, Disney, Time Warner(Murray Rothstein a.k.a. Sumner Redstone) and Dynasty, no Michael Jackson, no Elvis (his two managers and all his songwriters were all Jews.) There wouldn't even be Jesus!!! or Christmas.

    1. Amen and amen!!! Does it sound too ridiculous to say that some of my best friends are Jewish?!!! Because they are; I've always been a fan (famous or not).