The cemetery, which shares a block of real estate in Hollywood with Paramount Pictures, is a place of pilgrimage for Hollywood historians and fans. But it has also become a popular “event” site for people who previously may have never wished to enter a cemetery except in the back of a hearse. Today, the grounds not only host funerals, but also films, bands, and celebrations, like this past weekend’s fantastic Dia de los Muertos festival.
This wasn’t always the case. Not long ago, Hollywood Forever (then known as Hollywood Memorial) had been left for dead. The mausoleum was padlocked with standing water on the floor, headstones were lost in jungles of uncut weeds, and Douglas Fairbanks’ tomb was submerged in stagnant water.
The credit for the revitalization goes to Tyler Cassity, the hip young owner of the cemetery, who was the subject of an award-winning documentary in 2000 called The Young and the Dead. When Cassity took over ownership of the cemetery several years ago, it was on the verge of condemnation. He was able to bring it back to “life” by capitalizing on its history and by transforming it into a park for the living as well as the dead.
The cemetery is one of the most historic spots in Los Angeles. It is the eternal home of dozens of Hollywood’s fallen, like Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, Peter Lorre, Nelson Eddy, Fay Wray, Tyrone Power, Marion Davies, Mel Blanc, and the aforementioned Douglas Fairbanks. Recent arrivals include Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone, Don Adams, Maila Nurmi (known to the world as “Vampira”), and Darrin McGavin.
On Saturday, I saw hundreds of people filing into the once-dejected mausoleum, many in Day of the Dead attire, to hear a band and to examine colorful artwork that lined the walls. Valentino, who occupies a crypt in southeast corner of the building, once again drew crowds, as he did in life. Most were young people who had probably never heard of the silent screen idol until coming face-to-face with his crypt.
As a taphophile, I have spent many rewarding hours searching for the final resting places of the world’s famous and infamous and I find cemeteries to be a great place for quiet contemplation. But I can say without reservation that Hollywood Forever is the only cemetery I have ever visited that I am able to describe as fun.
We can thank Tyler Cassidy and his staff for that.
Which goes to show that even a graveyard can be brought back to life if you’re willing to think “outside the coffin.”