Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Before Michael, Forest Lawn was stars' final rest stop

By Steve Crum

At this writing, it is unknown exactly where Michael Jackson will be buried. Or entombed. If he is taken, at least temporarily, to one of the Forest Lawn Cemeteries (there are several in the funeral franchise), it will likely be (rumor alert) either the Forest Lawn Glendale or Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills. (Could be that Michael will eventually be entombed at Neverland, which would become a West Coast Graceland. Again, speculation.)

Both FL Glendale and Hollywood Hills are known for the stars buried there. Like the dozen or so other Forest Lawns, the cemetery plays to the public, aka tourists. Hey, it's a business. Group celebrations, meetings and picnics are encouraged (see their websites), and art exhibits and tours occur throughout the year. Yet there is a definite decorum and respect inherent. Photographing celebrity graves and tombs is prohibited, and some stars' resting places are hidden from public view.

When my family toured Forest Lawn Glendale some 40 years ago, I was impressed with the grandiose statues and fountains. There was an exhibit of a football field-sized The Last Supper painting (reproduction), stretching across the wall of a huge exhibition hall. It might have depicted Christ's crucifixion. I cannot recall.

At that time, I did not know most of the classic movie stars resting there. But my mother noted W.C. Fields' impressive crypt.

What I do remember very well is the Forest Lawn coloring book I bought in the gift shop. In it, one could lay crayons to the sculpture and buildings peppering the deep green landscape. (Green was a dominant color in this book.) The cover foretold the fun inside: two children, hand in hand, walk through Forest Lawn's open gate. Ah, family values. Four decades later, who knows if any of the Forest Lawns even has a gift shop.

The Glenwood Forest Lawn is occupied by grave sites of the following celebs: George Burns & Gracie Allen, Theda Bara, Humphrey Bogart, Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., Walt Disney, Buddy Ebsen, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, James Stewart, David O. Selznick, Mary Pickford, Red Skelton, Carole Lombard, Chico Marx, Clayton Moore, and Spencer Tracy. And many others.

Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, however, has its own marquee: Gene Autry, Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, Gabby Hayes, Telly Savalas, John Ritter, Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel, Liberace, Ricky Nelson, and more.

Interesting that the great showman/pianist Liberace was featured as a funeral director in 1965's dark comedy, The Loved One, which lampooned elaborate funerals and Forest Lawn in particular.

Seriously, may Michael Jackson rest in true peace on his body's journey.
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Link here to a brief overview of Forest Lawn in Hollywood Hills: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrGrqFxBYhk

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