Tag Archives: grave

Michael and Farrah in the Santa Clarita Valley

For many, it was the “day the 70s died.”
 
The sobering announcement on June 25, 2009 of Farrah Fawcett’s death from cancer, followed by the truly shocking news a few hours later that Michael Jackson had died from a drug overdose, saddened an entire generation who had grown up alongside the careers of these legendary performers.

It’s interesting to note that both Jackson and Fawcett had several ties to the Santa Clarita Valley.

Jackson came to Vasquez Rocks in 1991 to film part of the music video for the song Black Or White, a musical plea for racial equality. This video from his multi-platinum Dangerous album uses locations from around the world and contains one of the earliest examples of “morphing” in film.

In the Vasquez Rocks segment, Jackson dances with Native Americans atop a platform while riders on horseback encircle them. It was an appropriate location as literally hundreds of Westerns have been shot here going back to the earliest days of film.

The Black of White single was the biggest seller of 1991, and the video, which was released simultaneously around the world, was one of the most watched ever.

Incidentally, the video’s director, John Landis, was the director of the ill-fated 1983 Twilight Zone: The Movie segment that claimed the lives of actor Vic Morrow and two small children during filming behind the Magic Mountain theme park in nearby Valencia.

A few miles southwest of Vasquez Rocks at 15564 Sierra Highway is the Halfway House Cafe. It was here that Fawcett’s December 1995 Playboy spread was said to have been shot. This issue was the magazine’s biggest seller of the 90s.

Halfway House is frequently seen on film and television and is the site of Cindy Crawford’s famous 1991 Pepsi commercial where she drives up in a Lamborghini wearing blue jean cutoffs and a white tank top. (BTW, Halfway House is also seen in Landis’ Twilight Zone: The Movie.)

At the time of Fawcett’s death, her 24-year-old son Redmond O’Neal was incarcerated in a Santa Clarita area jail on drug charges. He was given a three-hour release to attend her funeral.

This past Saturday, Jackson’s jacket from the Thriller video went on auction and brought in $1.8 million. According to reports, the jacket’s sale will benefit another local Santa Clarita Valley institution – our friend Tippi Hedren’s Shambala Preserve – where two of Jackson’s tigers from Neverland Ranch are now housed.


Death By Sound: The Tragic Tale of Karl Dane

Hollywood, like crocodiles, sometimes eats its own. Take, for example, the tragic story of actor and comic Karl Dane.

Dane, who was born Rasmus Karl Therkelsen Gottlieb in Copenhagen in 1886, boarded a steamer headed for Ellis Island 30 years later with $25 in his pocket.

Despite limited English, Dane soon landed a part playing a German chancellor in a film made in New York called My Four Years in Germany. The anti-German propaganda film was the first major hit for fledgling producers Warner Bros. and led to more parts for Dane on the East Coast.

He later moved west, settling in Van Nuys in 1921, where he married and started a new career as a farmer. Two years later his wife and newborn baby daughter died in childbirth, and Dane returned to films.

In 1924, Dane appeared in the silent blockbuster The Big Parade, which starred John Gilbert and Renee Adoree. The success of the film led to more work for the Danish immigrant alongside Rudolph Valentino in Son of the Sheik.

While most of his previous silent film roles were as “heavies,” Dane was teamed up with Scotsman George K. Arthur in 1927 as part of the comic duo Dane & Arthur. The series of comedy shorts they created proved popular, and MGM rewarded Dane with a long-term contract.

And then came sound.

With the arrival of “talkies,” Dane’s heavily-accented voice didn’t translate well to audiences, and he was soon cut by MGM.

The Dane & Arthur team disbanded after a lengthy vaudeville tour, with Dane later trying his hand at a variety of jobs before returning to the stage in an unsuccessful bid to make it as a solo performer.

By the end of 1933, Dane found himself in the humiliating position of running a hot dog stand outside of the MGM gates; the studio where he had been a star a short time earlier. Former friends at the studio, perhaps to save him embarrassment, avoided his establishment, which failed a short time later.

During this week in April 1934, Dane was robbed of his last $18. Afterwards, he went back to his Hollywood apartment and killed himself with a revolver where he was later found by a friend.

For a time his body lay unclaimed until Danish actor Jean Hersholt convinced MGM to pay for Dane’s burial at what is today Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the same burial ground where his old co-star Rudolph Valentino was interred a few years earlier.


The Tarzan Tree

If you ever happen to “move west down Ventura Boulevard,” like the vampires in Tom Petty’s song Free Fallin’, there’s a good chance that you’ll pass a tree in Tarzana that’s more than just a tree.

“Which came first, Tarzan or Tarzana?” is a question that’s a lot easier to answer than the chicken-egg conundrum.

“Tarzana” was taken from the name of the ranch owned by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Burroughs, one of the most successful fantasy novelists of the 20th century, was born in 1875 in Chicago. As a young man, his parents sent him to Idaho to live with his brothers on a ranch, to protect him from a flu epidemic that was sweeping through the Midwest at the time. In Idaho he learned to ride and shoot, which later earned him a spot in the US 7th Cavalry in Arizona Territory.

He left the army after it was discovered that he had a heart murmur which prevented him from becoming an officer. For the next several years he drifted between Idaho and Chicago, settling for long enough to marry his first wife Emma on New Year’s Day, 1900.

Burroughs spent several years employed in menial jobs and eventually found himself working as a pencil sharpener wholesaler. His job required him to monitor the effectiveness of the advertisements that his company placed in “pulp” magazines. After studying the ads he began reading the stories and became convinced that he could write as good as the authors featured inside.

Despite having never written, Burroughs submitted a story to one of the pulps entitled Dejah Thoris, Martian Princess. He feared that the public would think it insane for a pencil sharpener salesman to write science fiction, so he published the story under the joke pseudonym Normal Bean – his way of saying he wasn’t crazy.

The story, re-titled Under the Moons of Mars, proved very successful, and Burroughs was paid more money for it than he ever earned before. Success out of the gate prompted his decision to quit selling pencil sharpeners and to become a full-time writer.

In 1912, Burroughs created one of the world’s most enduring characters in fiction when he published Tarzan of the Apes.

Tarzan, the man raised in the jungles of Africa by apes, was such a popular character that soon he could be found in 26 more Burroughs novels, as well as in theaters and comics. Burroughs created several other series, but none were as popular as Tarzan.

In 1919, Burroughs used some of his newfound wealth to purchase a large ranch in the desolate western end of the San Fernando Valley, which he named “Tarzana.” In 1928 the residents around the ranch chose the same name for their new town. That same year, Burroughs’ daughter Joan married actor Jim Pierce who had earlier starred as Tarzan in a Hollywood movie.

By 1934, Burroughs had created his own company to oversee his numerous publications, and had divorced his wife. A year later he remarried an actress and resettled in Hawaii. He was playing tennis there with his son on the morning of December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Although he was 66 at the time with a weak heart, he became America’s oldest war correspondent.

By the end of the war he had again divorced, and returned to Tarzana to live out the remainder of his life, suffering a fatal heart attack during this week in 1950 while reading Tarzan in the comics.

In accordance with his wishes, the creator of Tarzan and dozens of other fictional characters, was buried under a tree in front of his office at 18354 Ventura Boulevard in (where else?) … Tarzana.

 


Meeting ‘God’

Comedian George Burns, who died 15 years ago today just after turning 100, had an amazing 90-year career.  After starting out in vaudeville, he and his wife Gracie Allen enjoyed successful runs in radio, film, and television as the comedy team Burns and Allen. After Gracie died in 1964, George continued working, winning an Oscar at the age of 80, and whimsically portraying the Supreme Being in 1977’s Oh, God!

I met George Burns on two occasions. “Met” is actually too strong a word – encountered would be more accurate.

The first encounter took place at LAX when an escalator malfunctioned and he stumbled on top of me. I helped him up, made sure he was okay, gave him a knowing nod after recognizing who he was, and we went on our merry ways.

The second took place at the spot where you can find him today: Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale.

I was supposed to be in church that morning because the religious college I was attending at the time required that I go, but was powerless to make me happy about it. I made an appearance, but when I saw a jerk that I knew mount the podium to deliver the sermon, I grabbed a friend and bolted for the door. 

My friend knew that I liked to explore cemeteries to find the permanent homes of the famous and infamous and had always wanted me to give him a tour of Forest Lawn. It seemed like a perfect place to hide out for a couple of hours from the all-seeing eyes of the church police, so we drove to Glendale.

I took my friend around to the graves of all the biggies at the top of the hill – Walt Disney, Errol Flynn, Spencer Tracy – and then went inside the mausoleum to introduce him to lots of other folks, like Nat King Cole, Alan Ladd, Clara Bow, and George Burn’s late wife and comedy partner, Gracie Allen.

We exited the building and turned the corner, and for the second time in my life, I literally ran into George Burns.

Now, I’m not a big guy, but compared to me, George Burns in his eighties was a Smart Car next to a Hummer. (It was like the time at Warner Bros. when I rounded a soundstage, and bounced off John Goodman like a pinball.)

Luckily, he was none the worse for wear, and gave us a quick “Hello, boys,” before heading into the building to visit his beloved Gracie.

After he walked away, my friend turned to me and said, “See what happens when you talk me in to cutting church? God himself shows up!”

I stop by Forest Lawn from time-to-time to check in on George and Gracie. They are now entombed together with Gracie’s name listed first, since George wanted her to finally get top billing.

 


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.


Three’s Company

Do celebrities really die in threes?

To some, it’s a universal law. To others, it’s just sloppy thinking applied to a statistical likelihood with all the famous people walking around these days.

Each camp draws different conclusions to the same evidence, like in late June, 2009, with the wave of celebrity deaths that took place around the passing of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett.

Another such grouping happened five years ago this week with the triple-deaths of the three-D’s – Darren McGavin, Dennis Weaver, and Don Knotts – within 24 hours.

Darren McGavin, the first to be born and the last to die, spent much of his youth in the Pacific Northwest either homeless or living in orphanages. He began his Hollywood career as a painter on the Columbia lot where he secured a bit role in a film before moving to New York to hone the craft of acting.

He eventually starred in seven television series, most notably in Kolchak: The Night Stalker in the early 70s, playing a modern-day vampire hunter. His most famous film role came in 1983’s A Christmas Story, where he played the grumpy father with the kitschy leg lamp.

McGavin died on February 25, 2006, a day after Knotts and Weaver. He was buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in an appropriate spot for a former vampire hunter, as his plot overlooks that of Maila Nurmi, television’s original Vampira.

Dennis Weaver was raised in Missouri where he wanted to be an actor from an early age. He committed to the profession after failing to make the 1948 U.S. Olympic decathlon team. His acting career was secured when he landed the role of Chester, Matt Dillon’s deputy, in the long-running Western series Gunsmoke in 1955.

Weaver was often seen on television throughout the rest of his career, including starring roles in Gentle Ben in 1967 and McCloud in 1970. He also starred in the Steven Spielberg thriller Duel in 1971.

Weaver and his wife Gerry had one of the most successful marriages in Hollywood history, lasting from 1945 until his death. He was an advocate for the environment and a major supporter of several progressive causes. He died from lung cancer on February 24, 2006.

Don Knotts, like Weaver, was born in the summer of 1924.

Knotts came from West Virginia and began his stage career as a ventriloquist. In 1958, he appeared alongside Andy Griffith in the film No Time For Sergeants, which began a lifelong friendship and professional relationship between the two men.

Knotts later got regular work on television on Three’s Company and other shows, and in several classic screen comedies like The Incredible Mr. Limpet, Pleasantville, and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (“Atta boy, Luther!”). 

But to the millions of fans who still regularly transport themselves to the town of Mayberry in the country of TV Land, Knotts will forever be Deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. Barney, with his Napoleon complex and single bullet, was just about the funniest character to ever appear on a television set.

It was fitting that both Knotts and Weaver died on the same day, since they both became famous playing deputies. As one blogger wrote back in 2006, “it looks like a bad week to be an ex-law enforcement sidekick.”

It was a bad week for us all.

I never met any of these men, so I can’t vouch for their real-life personalities, but thanks to the wonderful characters they played, it’s impossible for me to bring any of them to mind without breaking into a smile.

 


Fire and Ice

Dona Lee Carrier ('a cup of gold on the ice') and her ice dance partner Roger Campbell. Both would perish on Sabena Flight 548.

The rectangular markers for the graves at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale are uniformly flat to the ground to make it easier for groundskeepers to mow the grass. Most are fairly non-descript, generally displaying only the deceased’s name, years of life, and the occasional personal message.

In the private Garden of Honor section, near the plots of Sam Cooke and Sammy Davis, Jr., is a grave that tells a lot about how the life it represents was lived, and how it ended.

The deceased was a young female ice dancer by the name of Dona Lee Carrier, who was only a few months past her twentieth birthday at the time of her death.

Her marker reads: “Our Beloved Daughter – Dona Lee Carrier – Gold medalist and member of the U.S. Figure Skating Team, representing the U.S. in World Competition which was to be held in Prague. She perished at the peak of her career with all her teammates in the Sabena Airlines crash in Brussels, Belgium. She was beautiful, talented and good. ‘A cup of gold on the ice.’ …”

While Dona’s name may not be familiar these days, the plane crash that claimed her life and the rest of the U.S. Figure Skating team on February 15, 1961, is being remembered around the country today on its 50th anniversary.

Figure skating gold belonged to the Europeans for the first half-century of the Olympics, but great strides had been made by the U.S., culminating in gold medals won by both the American men and women at the Squaw Valley Olympics in 1960. After the games concluded, most of the medal winners retired, clearing the way for a new crop of stars. The 1961 World Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia was to be the coming-out party for these future Olympians.

It was not to be. The Sabena Airlines Boeing 707 that was carrying the team to Prague dropped from the sky just outside of Brussels, killing everyone on board. The entire 18-member skating team was lost, plus an additional 16 coaches, officials, and family members. The tragedy even reached into the White House as one of the skaters, Dudley Richards, was a personal friend of President Kennedy and his brother Ted.

Other sports teams had been lost to airplane crashes in the past, but the Sabena crash was different. Since all the elite American skaters were on the plane, it was the closest a sport has ever come to decapitation in this country’s history.

The crash on February 15, 1961 could have proven fatal to figure skating, but like a phoenix, it rose again from its ashes, thanks in large part to the $10 million USFS Memorial Fund which was created in honor of the crash victims. The fund, which still exists, is used to support the training of promising young skaters, including Peggy Fleming, whose gold medal at the 1968 Olympics helped bring the Americans back to prominence in figure skating – a sport that could have died seven years earlier along with its 1961 World Championship team.

(In remembrance of the tragedy, Rise, a film about the crash and its aftermath, will be shown in theaters nationwide for one day only this Thursday.)