Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Hey Vern! I'm Dead!

Jim Varney was born on June 14, 1949 in Lexington Kentucky.  From an early age, it was obvious to all who knew him that one day he would annoy millions of people.  Can you believe this spaz won a daytime Emmy Award?

Recognizing that her son had a knack for imitating popular cartoon characters, Varney's mother enlisted him in local theater productions when he was just eight years old.  He was a quick study, and by the time he was in high school, he was already winning drama competitions.  He studied Shakespeare in Virginia and became a regular performer at Opryland In Nashville.  Not bad for a kid of 17.

In 1980, Varney signed with an advertising agency in Nashville to play what would become his signature character, Ernest P. Worrel.  Watch Varney discuss that historic decision with ABC's Joan Lunden here.

Ernest's first commercial was for a local amusement park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, but his pitchman career soon took off.  By 1984, Varney had played the part in more than 800 local commercials throughout the south, selling everything from milk to Toyotas.  KnowwhatImean, Vern?
I paid $5 to see this in the theatre.

It wouldn't take long for Hollywood to notice, which decided to quickly cash in on his character.  The first Ernest movie, Ernest Goes to Camp, was released in 1987.  Watch the trailer here.  It was a box office success (!), bringing in more than $23 million (produced for a mere $3 million).  Incredibly, seven additional Ernest films would hit theatres before the franchise burned out in 1997.

Varney had other roles besides Ernest, including that of Slinky Dog in the popular Toy Story movie franchise.  Hear a sampling of that character here. He also took over the role of Jed Clampett in the 1993 big-screen remake of The Beverly Hillbillies.  Watch the trailer here.

In 1998, Varney was filming a movie called Treehouse Hostage when he started coughing up blood.  He hid his condition until the production was complete, but as a longtime smoker, he knew how serious it potentially was.  When production on the film was completed, he was officially diagnosed with lung cancer.

For two years, Varney continued to act, while also taking time off for chemotherapy.  Sadly, he'd succumb to the disease on February 10, 2000.  He was just 50 years old.  He was buried in his hometown of Lexington in the town cemetery.  His final film, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, was released the following year, and Disney dedicated the film to his memory.

Next: New year - new graves!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Surely You Can't Be Serious - "Airplane's" Stephen Stucker

Stephen Stucker was never a household name. But to fans of the 1980 comedy smash Airplane!, he'll forever be Johnny Henshaw, a wisecracking air traffic controller with a license to ad lib.  Fans of Airplane II: The Sequel will know him as Johnny Jacobs, but hey, what's a little continuity among friends.

Stucker was born on July 2, 1947 in Des Moines, Iowa.  We're familiar with it.  His family moved to Ohio, then later to Alameda, California.  There he attended the Lincoln School, making a name for himself as both the class clown and an up and coming concert pianist.  Makes this scene all the more funny.

Stucker's high school yearbook photo.
Stucker's first film was 1975's Carnal Madness, aka Delinquent Schoolgirls.  Watch the trailer here.  Viewer discretion is advised.  He had an itch for comedy, and he eventually found himself in Madison, Wisconsin, where he joined the Kentucky Fried Theatre, a sketch comedy group founded by brothers David and Jerry Zucker and their friend Jim Abrams.  This led to a role in the group's first film, the aptly titled Kentucky Fried Movie, in 1977.  Watch the trailer here.
Stucker's antics in that film earned him the role of Johnny in Airplane! just three years later. Watch a compilation of his finer moments in the film here.

Following the success of that film, Stucker continued to find modest work in the industry, including this 1981 episode of the long-forgotten Marie Osmond Show.  Don't have time for the whole episode?  Watch his parody of Hostess cupcakes here. His last role of significance was a walk-on in the 1983 film Trading Places.

In 1984, Stucker was diagnosed with AIDS.  He became one of the first celebrities to publicly announce their affliction, which he discussed in great detail with talk-show host Phil Donahue. He passed just two years later, on April 13, 1986.  He was just 38 years old.  What a pisser.

Stucker was unmarried, and he preceded both of his parents in death.  For years, it was something of a mystery as to what had become of him.  It wasn't until his father's passing in 2008 that all was revealed (Stucker's mother had passed 20 years earlier in 1988).

All three family members were cremated.  Their ashes were placed in matching urns at Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, California.

Trivia:  Airplane! was released on July 2, 1980 - Stucker's 33rd birthday. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Sit On It! - The Final Resting Place of Garry Marshall

Garry Marshall (his real name!) was born on November 13, 1934.  Though one might assume he was born in Milwaukee, it was actually farther east - the Bronx. 

His parents were both in show business in one form or another.  His father was a producer of industrial films while his mother ran a tap dancing school.  So it was almost predestined that he'd carve out a career in show business for himself.

He began as a joke writer in New York for comedians such as Joey Bishop and Phil Foster.  He'd later work for The Tonight Show under Jack Paar, the show's original host.  Watch Garry discuss that experience here.   

In 1961, Garry headed west and landed in Hollywood, where he teamed up with fellow writer Jerry Belson.  The two would work together on a variety of shows including The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Danny Thomas Show before creating series of their own.  Their first such joint venture was a short-lived sit-com called Hey, Landlord. Watch the opening credits here.  And here's a complete episode.

The series only lasted for one season.  Afterwards, the two began adapting a popular Broadway play by Neil Simon for television.  The Odd Couple, starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, premiered in 1970 and lasted for five seasons.  Watch the intro here.  Ten years later, Marshall revived the series with an all African-American cast.  The New Odd Couple, starring Ron Glass and Demond "Big Dummy" Wilson, lasted only one season.  Watch the intro here.

Going solo, Marshall created the series that would define his career, Happy Days.  It's origins are often confused, but here's what happened.  Marshall produced the Happy Days pilot in 1972, starring Ron Howard as Richie, Anson Williams as his best friend Potsie, and Marion Ross as Mrs. C. ABC decided to pass on the series, but rather than jettisoning their investment entirely, they aired the pilot as part of their anthology series Love, American Style.  Watch that episode here

Fast forward a year to 1973.  George Lucas's film American Graffiti hit the screen and scored box office gold.  Like Happy Days, it was set in the 50s, and like Happy Days, it starred Ron Howard.  Suddenly ABC was interested, and the series was a go. 

Howard, Williams and Ross returned, joined by newcomers Tom Bosley, Erin Moran, Don Most, and of course, Henry Winkler as the Fonz.  Early seasons featured three Cunningham children, including Richie's older brother Chuck, who mysteriously disappeared and was retconned out of existence entirely.  Watch Marshall explain how that happened here.

It lasted for ten seasons with a host of spin-offs, including Laverne and Shirley, starring Marshall's sister Penny.  Watch her discuss that casting decision here.

Marshall's plot at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.
After 30 years of producing sit-coms, Marshall turned to the silver screen, producing 1990's biggest hit Pretty Woman, launching Julia Roberts into orbit.  Thanks Garry. He'd also produce a hit for Bette Midler in Beaches as well as The Princess Diaries.

In 2016, Marshall suffered a stroke and was admitted to a hospital in Burbank.  While there, he contracted pneumonia and passed away on July 19.  He was buried at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

I'd love to know who left the baseball.
Marshall's family provided visitors to the grave with a bench to sit down and pay their respects.

They honored Garry's legacy by including a plaque, bearing the iconic insult from Happy Days.

Trivia: As stated above, Garry's birthday was November 13.  It's probably not a coincidence then that in the introduction to The Odd Couple, the narrator explains to us that Felix Unger was kicked out of his home on November 13th.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

David Brinkley: Six Feet Under - Film at 11:00!

David Brinkley was born on July 10, 1920 in Wilmington, North Carolina.  Though his career would later take him across the globe, he'd eventually return to Wilmington to be laid to rest.  But that's getting ahead of the story.

Brinkley began his career in journalism while still in high school, writing for the Wilmington Morning Star.  While there, one of his stories was picked up by the Associated Press and published nationally.  He'd continue his education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Emory University, and finally Vandberbilt.

After graduation in 1940, Brinkley enlisted in the U.S. Army, but was soon discharged for medical reasons.  He took a position with United Press International in Atlanta before moving to NBC as a radio reporter.  But with the dawn of television, Brinkley would become one of the first journalists to make the transition.

Brinkley was paired with fellow reporter Chet Huntley for The Huntley-Brinkley Report from 1956 to 1970.  They'd set the stage for how news would be presented on television, with Brinkley anchoring in Washington while Huntley reported from New York City.  Every night they'd close the program with their signature trademarks "Good night, Chet" and "Good night, David," which undoubtedly inspired The Waltons.    Watch them preview the 1960 Democratic National Convention here, as presented by Kentucky King cigarettes, featuring an all tobacco-filter!   Then watch Brinkley's commentary on the night John F. Kennedy was assassinated here.  Finally, watch Brinkley reflect on his former partner in this video.

Inscription on Brinkley's marker.
Brinkley moved to ABC in 1981, where he began hosting This Week With David Brinkley. It ran until he finally retired in 1996, by which time he was the longest serving news anchor or host of a national television program.

He retired to his ranch in Houston, Texas.  Over the next seven years, his health greatly deteriorated, confining him to a wheelchair for his final days.  Just six months before he passed away, he'd require rescuing from that ranch when it nearly burned to the ground.

On June 12, 2003, Brinkley died from complications of a fall.  He was 82 years old.  He died the same day as actor Gregory Peck, who beat him out by five years.  Brinkley was interred at Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington.

The Brinkley Family plot at Oakwood Cemetery.  David's flat, rectangular plot is at far right, obscured by the tree.

Good night, David.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Frank Gorshin: Six Feet Under

Frank John Gorshin, Jr. was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on April 5, 1933.  He was the son of Slovenian immigrants to the United States, who were very active in Pittsburgh's local Slovenian community.  Frank got his first taste of show biz singing in the Slovenian Singing Society Preseren.

By age 15, Frank was already a skilled impressionist.  He took a job as a theatre usher, where he studied the mannerisms of those on the silver screen.  Before graduating from high school, he was already performing in nightclubs.

After a tour with the Army, Gorshin returned to America and resumed his public career.  He appeared in a number of films and television series throughout the 1950s and 60s, including The Ed Sullivan Show.  Gorshin made a number of appearances on the show, and was a guest on February 9, 1964 - the same night the Beatles made their iconic premiere.  History also forgets one other guest from that night - future teen heartthrob Davy Jones.  The things you learn on the internet.

In 1965, Gorshin was cast in the role that would mark his career, that of the Riddler on the iconic Batman television series.  He was the first of the rogues gallery to taunt the dynamic duo, appearing in the pilot episode.  Watch him chew up the scenery in this compilation video.

Over the next three years, he'd play the character in ten different half-hour installments, earning an Emmy nomination along the way (Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Comedy).  Yes, even the Academy acknowledged that Batman was a comedy.

After Batman completed its run, Gorshin made a memorable appearance on another pop culture juggernaut, Star Trek.  Watch him try to match wits with Captain Kirk here.

Gorshin never hurt for work, continuing to appear on stage and screen for the next three decades.  He made appearances in such series as Hawaii Five-O, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and of course, Murder, She Wrote.  His final guest role was on an episode of CSI, directed by Quentin Tarantino, which aired two days after he died.

In 2002, Gorshin was on Broadway in a one-man show called Say Goodnight, Gracie, playing the iconic showman George Burns.  It was nominated for a 2003 Tony Award for best play.  By 2005, he was touring the country with the production. 

After completing a performance in Memphis in April, Gorshin boarded a plane bound for Los Angeles.  While en route, he experienced difficulty breathing, receiving emergency oxygen from the flight crew.  Once on the ground, he was transported to a hospital in Burbank , where he passed on May 17, 2005.  A lifelong smoker, Gorshin died of lung cancer, emphysema and pneumonia.  Jesus.

Gorshin's family returned him to his native Pittsburgh, where he was buried with his parents and his brothers at Calvary Catholic Cemetery.  The headstone befits his iconic showbiz career.

According to a groundskeeper at Calvary who spoke to me on the subject, Gorshin's burial vault was painted lime green with a question mark on either side.  We can only hope that this is true.

Next:  Tragedy strikes on the set of Twilight Zone: the Movie.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Satan Buried in Ohio Cemetery!

In the 1920s, Ohio veterinarian Walter Brown founded the Brown Pet Cemetery in Columbus.  For the next five or six decades, it would see a lot of traffic.  Grieving pet owners put a lot of time and clearly a lot of money into creating shrines to their departed four-legged friends.

The property is well maintained, so at first glance, you might think it was still in operation.  But the cemetery is largely abandoned.  Burials are no longer permitted.  Instead, it's the curious who come out to see what remains of this former local legend.  Documentaries have even been produced, one of which, created by PBS, you can view here.

The headstones offer a fascinating snapshot of a bygone era.  The names and memorials often reflect common pop culture references of the time.  There are several Lassies buried here, as well as at least one Rin Tin Tin.  And there are some that would undoubtedly be considered offensive or politically incorrect today.  Consider yourself warned.

I'd hate to meet their worst boy!

I'd love to know how they chose the name.

I've seen human headstones less devoted.

A celebrity sighting?

Larry Harmon is buried in LA, thank you very much.

I like this one because I can't imagine that those who rededicated the stone were even alive when the dog passed away.


Better left buried.

Next: On the hunt for Rerun!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Specimens! The Final Resting Place of Ohio's Criminally Insane

Six Feet Under Hollywood was originally designed as a blog detailing celebrity graves.  But every so often in my travels, I encounter other less-famous graves that just beg to be profiled.  While never household names, the graves themselves have a story to tell.  Such was the case on a recent visit to Columbus, Ohio.

It's here that you'll find the redundantly named State of Ohio State Old Insane and Penal Cemetery.  It opened its doors in 1868 when the Central Ohio Lunatic Asylum (actual name) was destroyed by fire.  Seven inmates perished in the disaster.  Read a fascinating period-specific newspaper account of the incident here.

Additional inmate burials would follow, and eventually the state included prison inmates and the homeless as well.  A plaque outside proudly declares "We recognize the courage of past state hospital residents who lived with mental illness and inspired future understanding."

Unlike most cemeteries, you won't find many names on these markers.  Most are identified by their patient identification number, using the prefix "M" for male and "F" for female.

While these tantalize the imagination with questions of who each of these individuals really were, there are two much more curious stones found within the park, each labeled simply as "Specimens."  One can only imagine what might be buried in these plots.  Perhaps that inspiration for future understanding came through the study of abnormal brains.

If you're looking to visit, ignore most directions found online.  Communication is a lost art.  The cemetery is located behind the heliport for the Columbus Police Department.  Simply put that location in whichever map software you use for the best directions.  It will take you past an industrial area, through a gate, and down a long, seemingly deserted road.  But once you're in the parking lot, the cemetery can't be missed.

Next:  Another odd cemetery in Columbus???

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Mae West: Six Feet Under

Mary Jane "Mae" West was born on August 17, 1893 in Brooklyn, New York.  In the early 20th Century, she started her show biz career in vaudeville, but with a killer wit and a body to match, it didn't take long for Hollywood to notice.

In a career spanning seven decades, West was a proclaimed actress, comedian, singer and playwright, but was most famous for being one of the first great sex symbols, a badge she wore with honor.  Because of this, she was a controversial figure, who often faced censorship. But she would continue bucking the system itself, later proclaiming "I believe in censorship.  I made a fortune out of it."

I could add five or six paragraphs here discussing her extensive career, her vast fortune, or the men who knew her best.  But that's for someone else's blog.  Let's dish on death.

In August of 1980, West suffered a stroke at her home in Los Angeles.  It left her completely unable to speak, a cruel irony for one known for her husky contralto voice. She died three months later on November 22.  She was 87 years old.   Her face was 20. 

After a private service conducted in Los Angeles, West's family took her back to Brooklyn, where she was laid to rest at Cypress Hills Cemetery.  Her body was interred in the West family crypt within the Cypress Hills Abbey, pictured at right.  There she joined both of her parents and her brother.  Her sister Matilda would complete the family circle just 18 months later.

A word of caution if you go to visit.  Do not go on Saturdays.  The abbey is locked to the public on those days, and unless you're lucky enough to find a security guard who is either sympathetic or not that bright (like I did), you won't get in.  Suffice it to say, Rodney, I owe you big for this one!

Once inside, take the stairs up to the second level.  Turn right and proceed down the hallway, where you'll soon notice this landmark on the floor.  The exact location is Aisle EE, Special Section #2.  Flowers and other tributes are always appreciated.

West was famous for her catchphrase of "why don't you come up and see me sometime," which was somewhat prophetic.  Don't strain your neck eyeing this one.

Here's a closer look.

Next: Who am I?

A comedy legend in a Pittsburgh park, a TV villain with a green question mark.  

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Man Who Had Two Graves!

Anton Yelchin was only 27 years old when he died in a freak accident.  The Russian-born actor had already made a name for himself in Hollywood with a string of box office hits, including the role of Chekov in the more recent Star Trek films.  On June 19, 2016, Yelchin was impaled by his own Jeep Grand Cherokee after it rolled down a hill at his home in Los Angeles.  The county coroner's office ruled the death as "blunt traumatic asphyxia" with no signs of foul play.

Yelchin passed just one month before the release of Star Trek Beyond, which the producers posthumously dedicated to him, as well as to fellow Star Trek alum Leonard Nimoy, who passed prior to the film's completion.  Yelchin's co-stars from the film took to social media to mourn the actor's passing.

Yelchin was not married, so upon his passing, his parents tended to the funeral arrangements.  Of Jewish heritage, they chose Mt. Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles, the final resting place of such luminaries as Don Rickles, Norman Fell, and Judge Joseph Wapner.  Yelchin was laid to rest in a scenic garden, which fans were quick to flock to.

Rest in peace.....for now.

Normally, this would have been the end of the story.  But after he had been laid to rest, Yelchin's parents decided that they wanted to erect a statue in his memory.  Though his career in Hollywood had been brief, it had been grand, and they felt it was only appropriate.

Unfortunately for the Yelchins, Mt. Sinai does not allow above-ground markers, and there's not a single statue in the park.  Stymied by what they saw as bureaucratic red tape, they decided that another venue might be more appropriate, and they soon discovered Hollywood Forever, a cemetery known for its eternal tributes to Hollywood's elite, including Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino and even mobster Bugsy Siegel.  Whereas Mt. Sinai is not always as welcoming to curious tourists, Hollywood Forever welcomes them with open arms, gladly selling maps to the stars graves for a mere $10.  Appreciating this more laid-back vibe, the Yelchins did what anyone would do in that situation - they dug up their son and drove him seven miles down the road.

In October 2017, Yelchin's second grave, featuring a life-sized statue, was unveiled in a star-studded ceremony, featuring his Star Trek co-stars Zoe Saldana and Simon Pegg. No details have been revealed however, as to where the after-party was held.

Live long and....oh never mind.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Aunt Bee: Six Feet Under

Full disclosure.  I've never been a huge fan of The Andy Griffith Show.  But I get it.  It has its own place in the pop culture Hall of Fame, and a large part of that is due to the show's matriarch, Aunt Bee, played by actress Frances Bavier.

She was born on December 14, 1902 in New York City, a far cry from Mayberry indeed.  After graduating from Columbia University, she began her career in vaudeville, before eventually moving to the Broadway stage.  Film roles would follow, including the 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, along with roles on such popular TV series as Perry Mason and The Lone Ranger.

People often forget that Andy Griffith was a spin-off of another popular series, Make Room for Daddy.  The original pilot featured two familiar faces - Andy, playing his soon-to-be iconic character of Andy Taylor, and a then-unknown Ron Howard in his first appearance as Opie.  Bavier also appeared in the pilot, playing an unrelated character named Henrietta Perkins.  When the concept went to series however, she was recast in the more familiar role of Aunt Bee.  Watch the entire Daddy episode here.

Bavier resented the character, and by her own admission, cared little for Griffith either.  Despite all this, she logged more time in Mayberry than any other actor, appearing in both the original series and it's follow-up, Mayberry R.F.D.  I still don't know what that stands for.

In 1972, she retired from acting, and retreated to a simpler life in Siler City, North Carolina.  Given her New York background, it seemed an odd choice.  "I fell in love with North Carolina," she explained, "all the pretty roads and trees."  A local author chronicled this transition in her memoirs.

Bavier enjoyed her final years, doing charity work with the Easter Seals Society and by writing encouraging letters to her fans all over the world.  She was also quite the cat lover, and according to at least one report, would today be a prime candidate for the TV series Hoarders.  Read about her reclusive lifestyle here.

Then in late 1989, she was admitted to Chatham Hospital's coronary unit, where she spent two weeks undergoing observation.  She was released on December 4, but passed away just two days later.  The official cause of death was congestive heart failure, with supporting factors being breast cancer, arthritis, and COPD.  She was just eight days shy of her 87th birthday.

She was interred at Oakwood Cemetery, a simple country graveyard in Siler City.  As you travel down the country road leading to the park, be sure to look for a local business called, what else, Aunt Bee's.  Though it's not in any way related to Bavier. 

Normally I like to offer readers directions for finding burial locations, but you won't have any trouble finding this one.  In fact, you can spot it from the road.  At seven feet tall, it towers over every other headstone at Oakwood.  It even bears her character's name, and given her disdain for Aunt Bee, you really have to wonder who made that call.

Rest in peace, Aunt Bee.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Arizona Governor's Pyramid Tomb

He was Arizona's first governor, and apparently, it's most eccentric.  While this site typically brings you the dirt on celebrity graves, we occasionally like to profile the more bizarre and unique ones we encounter in our travels.  And the self-erected pyramid of George W.P. Hunt certainly qualifies.

He was born on November 1, 1859 in Hunstville, Missouri (the town was named after his grandfather). While born into privilege, his family would lose everything in the War Between the States.  However, he still finished college and made his way west, eventually settling in Arizona.  Deciding on a career in politics, his early bids for office were unsuccessful, but he'd later be elected governor no less than seven times.  Term limits anyone? 

When his wife passed in 1931, he felt that she deserved nothing less than a shrine, and he erected the pyramid on a hilltop in Papago Park overlooking nearby Phoenix.  Three years later he'd join her in the tomb, which was clearly constructed of bathroom tile.

Location: Papago Park, Phoenix, Arizona
Address: 625 N Galvin Parkway

We had hoped to include a YouTube video or two here for you to enjoy.  Unfortunately, all of those on YouTube suck. 

Next up: The Man Who Had Two Graves!