Tag Archives: forest lawn hollywood hills

Film’s Forgotten Four-footers

(Today’s post is by Deadwrite’s Dailies guest writer, Steve Goldstein.)

Back in July, 2007, I had the unique experience of being the featured guest on California’s Gold with Huell Howser. It turned out that Huell was a fan of my Beneath Los Angeles website and wanted to do a show about animal actors. Dead animal actors.

Huell asked me to lead him on a tour of the graves of these deceased four-footers, especially the ones who aren’t in cemeteries, since many were buried in backyards and studio lots that are now paved over and lost to history.

I met Huell and his cameraman, Cameron Tucker (yes, Cameron the cameraman) at 8:30 in the morning in Hollywood. Huell, who has been on the air for about 25 years, used to have a cameraman named Louie who he would frequently speak to on camera, saying things like “Louie, get a shot of this,” or “Louie, zoom in on that.” Throughout the day passersby wanted to know if Cameron was the famous Louie, which annoyed the cameraman. At one point he said to me, “Louie has been gone five years now. You’d think people would have figured that out by now.”

Huell began the show at Hollywood Forever Cemetery talking about how people come from near and far to visit celebrity graves. He then explained the twist of how we would be finding the graves of animal stars that day. After that he introduced me, and led into the segment with his catchphrase, “Our adventure begins … right now!”

Huell likes to shoot the show in sequence, even if it means crisscrossing the city many times.

Our first stop was the bank parking lot in Glendale where the Western studio town of Mixville once stood back in 1914. It was here that cowboy star Tom Mix made many of his early films with his trusted horse, Old Blue. When Old Blue died, he was buried on the studio lot. Years later the entire set was leveled and a shopping center was put up in its place. A branch of East-West Bank stands at the south end of the former property and today the bank’s parking lot rests right over the grave of the horse.   

Then it was on to Studio City to find the grave of Terry, the dog who played Toto in 1939’s family classic The Wizard of Oz. The site of Terry’s grave was formerly the ranch of his trainer, Carl Spitz. This property is also now a parking lot and apartment complex resting adjacent to the Ventura Freeway. Every day, thousands of commuters drive over the grave of Toto, who is buried under the freeway.

Our next stop was Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, near Burbank. Forest Lawn is historically cagey with celebrity seekers, and not surprisingly, they wouldn’t allow us to film there. Instead, we stood across the street and talked about Frank Inn, the animal actor trainer who is buried in the cemetery along with the ashes of three of his most famous actors, Benji, Arnold the Pig, and Tramp, the dog from My Three Sons.

We ended our day at the LA Pet Memorial Park in Calabasas, where we could see the actual graves of some celebrity animals. Unlike Forest Lawn, this place was very cooperative (as was Hollywood Forever), and very happy to have Huell Howser on the premises. Here, we filmed the graves of Kabar Valentino (faithful pet Doberman of Rudolph), Topper (Hopalong Cassidy’s horse), Petey (the Our Gang dog), and Tawney, the lion who roars at the start of all MGM Films.

The show we filmed that day is called Pet Cemetery and is replayed three or four times a year, so set your TiVo’s and DVR’s! 

Huell, by the way, was a hoot during the entire day. He truly loves doing what he does.

Steve Goldstein is the author of LA’s Graveside Companion: Where the V.I.P.s R.I.P. Schiffer Books, 2009.

Remembering Buster

Forty-five years ago today, the laughter was silenced.

I’ve been writing a lot about Charlie Chaplin lately since my wife Kimi and I are helping host ChaplinFest, which begins on Friday evening in Newhall, California.

But today, I would like to focus our attention on Buster Keaton, another of the silent era’s comedic titans, who was a friend and rival of Chaplin.

Porkpie topped, stone-faced Keaton was a master of physical comedy, technical innovation, and the use of visual effects in his films.

Born Joseph Keaton into a vaudeville family in 1895, young Buster claimed to have gotten his nickname from magician Harry Houdini who was part of the troupe.

Buster entered his parents’ act at the age of three, and remained a performer for the rest of his life. Despite having only one day of formal education, he had the mind of a mechanical engineer, and possessed a lifelong fascination with machines.

Buster made his film debut in 1917 with his friend Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle in New York, and later claimed to have taken the movie camera apart on the set that day, learning how films were created. He would use his new knowledge in later films to create innovative visual effects.

Before long, Keaton had his own studio in Hollywood (which he acquired from its former occupant, Charlie Chaplin). During the 1920s, Keaton was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, ranking alongside Chaplin and Harold Lloyd in terms of popularity. He made several silent masterpieces during the decade, including 1927’s Civil War comedy The General (which just happens to be my all-time favorite film).

Chaplin and Keaton had a great deal of respect for each other, and Keaton actually appeared in Chaplin’s film Limelight in 1952.

And like Chaplin, Keaton also filmed around Newhall.

In 1921, Keaton made a film called The Paleface, where he escaped from Indians across a bridge that was constructed over Beale’s Cut in Newhall. Beale’s Cut was a 90-foot man-made slit carved though a mountain which aided travel to and from the San Fernando Valley from the mid-1800’s until bypassed in 1910. Keaton returned to Beale’s Cut in 1925 to film a scene in Seven Chances.

ChaplinFest will be held at the William S. Hart Regional Park in Newhall, which contains the home and ranch of the former silent cowboy star. Ironically, William S. Hart was the subject of a western parody that Keaton filmed in 1922 called The Frozen North. Buster was angry at Hart for publicly condemning his friend Fatty Arbuckle during Arbuckle’s well-publicized scandal, which was brought on by the death of an actress at a party.

In The Frozen North, Keaton pokes fun at the tough, melodramatic character that Hart most-often portrayed in his films. Hart apparently didn’t find the portrayal funny, and refused to speak to Keaton for two years

Keaton has an additional area tie as well – his mother Myra is buried nearby in Glen Haven Cemetery in a canyon just north of Sylmar. (This cemetery is also the final resting place of Anne Cornwall, who played Buster’s girlfriend in his 1927 film College.)

Buster is buried in Burbank’s Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery just steps away from the grave of Stan Laurel, another former Chaplin friend and rival.

Death By Unlit Cigar

Everyone is aware that a regular habit of tobacco usage can lead to a slow and painful death, but occasionally, smoking can prove instantaneously fatal.

Take for example the case of zany television comic and innovator Ernie Kovacs.

On this date in 1962, Kovacs was driving home from a party at his friend Milton Berle’s house when he took a turn too quickly at the corner of Beverly Glen and Santa Monica Boulevards in Beverly Hills, skidded on wet pavement, and crashed into a telephone pole. He was thrown from the car and died almost instantly.

It certainly didn’t help that Kovacs was speeding at the time, or that the pavement was slick, or that he happened to be driving a Corvair – a car that Ralph Nader later deemed “unsafe at any speed.” But the cause of his death could have just as easily been listed in the coroner’s report as “death by unlit cigar” because it was believed that Kovacs was trying to light a cigar when he crashed. Photos of his wreckage show an unlit cigar on the pavement just inches away from his outstretched arm.

It’s appropriate that cigars may have contributed to Kovacs’ death, since they were such a large part of his life. He smoked them constantly, and used them as sight gags for many of the characters he created that later influenced the likes of David Letterman and Chevy Chase.

Cigars even figured prominently into Kovacs’ funeral. During the eulogy, the pastor quoted Kovacs’ own words to sum up his life: “I was born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1919 to a Hungarian couple. I’ve been smoking cigars ever since.”

Kovacs is buried at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills beneath a plaque which reads “Nothing in moderation – We all loved him.”

The Fifth Warner Brother

Bette Davis, and her famous eyes.

When Bette Davis first came to Hollywood in 1930 after being discovered on Broadway by a Universal talent scout, she traveled by train and was shocked on arrival not to be greeted by a representative from the studio. In fact, the studio had sent a man to meet her, but he left after failing to see anyone exit the train who looked like an actress.

For the next five decades, Davis would employ her unique look, as well as a willingness to play unsympathetic characters, to create one of the greatest of all Hollywood careers.

After her anticlimactic arrival in Hollywood, Davis would get her first role at Universal on the recommendation of a cinematographer who found her eyes to be striking. She quickly moved over to Warner Bros., where she got her big Hollywood “break” in 1932 when actor George Arliss personally chose her for the lead female role in his film The Man Who Played God.

Two years later, she earned critical acclaim in Of Human Bondage. When she wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award for the film, the ensuing uproar forced the Academy to change its nominating process. She won the Oscar the following year for Dangerous, but till the end of her life she would contend that the statuette was a consolation prize from the Academy for the previous year’s snub.

Along the way, Davis became nearly as famous for her legendary fights with studio chief Jack Warner, as for her body of work. In 1936, she tried to break her contract with the producer, believing that Warner was damaging her career with the roles he was demanding she play. Her case went to court in England, where Davis had fled, and was lost when her claim that WB kept her in “slavery” produced laughter in the courtroom when it was pointed out that her involuntary servitude was netting her $1350 per week.

During World War II, few actors in Hollywood threw themselves more valiantly behind the war effort than Davis. She once personally sold $2 million worth of war bonds in only two days, and in 1942, she, along with some other A-list friends, transformed an old nightclub into the “Hollywood Canteen,” a service club for men in uniform. She made it her personal mission to insure that it was staffed nightly by Hollywood stars who would entertain the fighting men on leave. Two years later, art imitated life when she played herself in Hollywood Canteen, a fictionalized account of the club. She was later quoted as saying that the founding of the Canteen was one of her proudest achievements.

Davis was a ubiquitous part of the Warner landscape for decades, making 54 films, and winning two Oscars along the way.

Even in death, the “Fifth Warner Brother,” who died on this date in 1989 at the age of 81, is said to keep an eye on things at the studio from her grave, which faces the lot from a short distance away.

Davis' grave at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

If you would like to learn more about the early days of Warner Bros., check out Images of America: Early Warner Bros. Studios, which I recently co-wrote with noted Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker.